In the article, “Psychological Theories of Crime and Delinquency,” taken from, “The Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment,” it attempts to understand the reasoning behind delinquent behavior. This is a topic that has interested human behaviorist for generations, because the concept is hard to comprehend. We all know that everyone has an inner drive to do well. Everyone longs to be accepted, loved, and desired. If given the choice, no one would chose to commit a crime, or be involved in any harmful activity. Yet, anyone that has looked around at the world knows that in every generation there have been many terrible cases and stories of crime. This is one of the most alarming human behaviors, and there have been many theories that try to understand the reasons why this happens.
The article explores the connection between personality and crime, bringing down a study that was conducted in the 1950’s. 500 boys were gathered, each with a history of crime and delinquent behavior. Upon investigating the lives of each of the boys, the results indicated that they all had many things in common, different than those with non-delinquent behavior. These boys were found to be less cooperative in school, more suspicious, more destructive, and more defensive. This can serve as a proof that there is a link between personality, and delinquent behavior. This may sound puzzling, because personality is formed by internal traits and emotions, while delinquent behaviors are entirely external. To help explain this assumption, the article supports its hypothesis by bringing the psychodynamic-psychoanalytic theory, developed from the writings of Sigmund Freud. Freud states that although crime is an external activity, it is in essence a result of internal pathology, internal pain and suffering. For example, if we see someone steal one million dollars from a bank, it is not because he wants the money, or is forced by others to commit that crime; rather he is feeling internal suffering and is committing the crime to ease this pain. Freud goes on to explain that our personalities do not develop when we get older; rather they become a part of us very early in our lives. He states that our personality is divided into three parts, the id, ego, and super ego. The article describes the three as, “The id represents the instinctual drives, the ego represents understood social norms that harness the id, and the superego is learned moral reasoning.” Although we can’t differentiate the fighting forces in ourselves, they are constantly balancing each other to create our unique personality. Freud writes that delinquent behavior occurs as a result of imbalance between these three different parts of our personality. The individual will feel a raging power in his id, and a less strong power in his ego. If a person’s id, his desires, grab control of his super ego, moral reasoning, the person will feel confused, depressed, and in an inner turmoil. This inner turmoil will affect his personality, and he may become a more destructive, defensive and confused person. In order to ease his inner pain, he will push his super ego deep into his unconscious, and follow his id to commit that desired crime. At those moments when the crime is committed, the person’s id is completely in control of him and will give him the drive to do things that he knows are not accepted.
The article continues to explain that the person will not only commit the crime, he will not feel guilty or bad about it. We see this in many situations. Someone will get caught for committing an illegal crime, and that person will not admit that they did something wrong. How can this be? How can a person truly justify their terrible actions? We can also understand this astonishing behavior through Freud’s theory. Freud explains that a person in this situation will develop “defense mechanisms,” to prevent the arrival guilty feelings. They will come up with many excuses and reasons in their head explaining why they did the right thing, or why it is not considered a crime. These are mechanisms that help the person remain calm and helps sooth his ego and superego. He will constantly tell himself that he did the right thing, so his inner turmoil will not start up again.
I believe that Freud’s theory was a tremendous asset to this article. Without the usage of the theory, we would be left with many unanswered questions. What is the connection between personality and delinquent behavior? Why do those that commit crimes not feel guilty about it? Why are those that committed crimes in the study more destructive and defensive people? It therefore needed this psychodynamic-psychoanalytic theory to tie the concept together and create an informative and accurate explanation of human behavior. By understanding that our personality is divided into three parts, each balancing the other, we can understand that if people are imbalanced it can create inner turmoil, and pain. In order to ease their pain, they will push their ego away and do the wrong, but easier thing. This sheds light to explain how although everyone wants to succeed and do the right thing, we see that many people do not. Without this theory, we would not understand how this human behavior is possible. It was very helpful, and clear because it provides a direct explanation of our personality, and what goes on inside ourselves. I truly believe this article needed to be grounded on this theory because if it was not, there would be no way to explain the psychological reasoning behind crime. The study brought down would not have an answer, and we would be left with many questions. I enjoyed this article immensely and thought the writer did an incredible job explaining a human behavior through a human behaviorist theory.
Although crime and delinquency is still a concept hard to believe, I know feel like I have gained a deeper understanding. Instead of looking at those as “bad,” or “mean” people, I can look at them with pity for they are just acting out of pain and confusion. It is our job to make the world a safe and happy place. The role of a social worker is to deal with people that are confused and struggling. It is their job to guide their client, care, support, and help them in any way. Social workers that help clients overcome their inner turmoil and pain, may be preventing them from easing their pain in destructive ways such as crime and delinquent behavior.
Zembroski, D. (2011). Psychological theories of crime and delinquency. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21(3), Retrieved from http://0-www.tandfonline.com.liucat.lib.liu.edu/doi/full/10.1080/10911359.2011.564552
Psychological Theories of Crime and Delinquency
Personality trait theories
Theories that explain crime and delinquency as a result of personality traits focus on delinquency as an externalizing behavior representing internal pathology. Representing a large literature, two prominent theories are the psychodynamic-psychoanalytical theory and the personality trait theory. The goal here is to summarize the main points.
The psychodynamic-psychoanalytic theory, developed from the writings of Sigmund Freud, posits that personality is developed early in life and is composed of three distinct parts: the id, the ego, and the superego (Siegel et al., 2006). The id represents the instinctual drives, the ego represents understood social norms that harness the id, and the superego is learned moral reasoning (Siegel et al.). Delinquent behavior occurs as a result of imbalance between these three parts of our personality and is thought to be a symbolic way of meeting our unconscious needs (Siegel et al.). The internal conflicts that lead to delinquency, usually resulting from a conflict between the id and societal norms understood by the ego, are very painful to the individual, so the individual pushes them into the unconscious (Shoemaker, 2005). Then, the individual develops coping strategies called defense mechanisms to cope with the conflicts, and these defense mechanisms can lead to problematic personality traits and problematic behaviors, such as delinquency (Shoemaker). In essence, delinquent behavior is seen as the external manifestation of an internal disease (Shoemaker).
In the 1950s, Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck conducted studies on 500 boys and highlighted the personality and delinquency link in some of their findings (Glueck & Glueck, 1950, 1952). Their interpretation of the findings indicated that when compared with nondelinquents, delinquent boys were “less cooperative,” more “suspicious,” “more destructive,” more “defensive,” and had “conscious or unconscious hostile impulses,” (Glueck & Glueck, 1952, p. 152). In addition, they reported more severe “mental pathology” in the delinquent boys (Glueck & Glueck, 1952, p. 162). Their work, although criticized for its inexact methods, inspired other researchers to examine personality and psychiatric disorder in connection with delinquency (Shoemaker, 2005). Others have attempted to link antisocial and aggressive behavior and low self-esteem to delinquency (Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2005).
The psychodynamic-psychoanalytic theory and the various personality trait theories attempt to identify common characteristics of delinquents and provide frameworks to guide interventions that may dissuade an individual from demonstrating destructive behaviors. The challenge to these theorists rests in the difficulty of testing such hypotheses and in taking into account the vast variability in human behavior.
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