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Friday, September 3, 2010

Criminology - Personality and Crime


Personality can be defined as the reasonably stable pattern of behaviour, including thoughts and emotions, that distinguish one person from another.
One’s personality reflects a characteristic way of adapting to life’s demands and problems. The way we behave is a function of how our personality enables us to interpret life events and make appropriate behavioural choices.

Often like mind, the personality facet of one’s life may fall victim to certain disorders called Personality Disorders which are characterized by inflexible, long standing and maladaptive personality traits that cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress for the individual. In other words, it features personal and social difficulties plus temperamental deficiencies or aberrations plus rigidity in dealing with life problems plus defective perceptions of self and others.


Odd, Dramatic, Emotional, Anxious,
Eccentric. Erratic Fearful

Odd and Eccentric :

1. Paranoid Personality Disorder – It shows symptoms like unwarranted suspiciousness, hypersensitivity and reluctance to trust others; higher in males.

2. Schizoid Personality Disorder – It is reflected by social isolation, emotional coldness and indifference to others, reclusive and withdrawn attitude with superficial and awkward relations, may lead to ultimate Schizophrenia. It is seen higher in males.

3. Schizotypal Personality Disorder – It shows poor interpersonal relations, they think that they possess magical thinking abilities or special powers, vague conversation, problem in thinking and perceiving or cognitive distortions, higher in males.

Dramatic, Emotional and Erratic :

1. Histrionic Personality Disorder - It involves self-dramatization, exaggerated expression of emotions and attention seeking behaviour or in other words flamboyant or flirtatious behaviour.

2. Narcissistic Personality Disorder – It flaunts exaggerated sense of self importance, an exploitative attitude and lack of empathy coupled with desire admiration and difficulty in accepting personal criticism. It is common among adolescents and males.

3. Borderline Personality Disorder – It is characterized by intense fluctuations in mood, self image and interpersonal relations, impulsive behaviour having feelings of emptiness, perceive others as all good or bad at different times. They move

with 3 assumptions:
“ World is dangerous and malevolent”
“ I am powerless and vulnerable”
“ I am inherently unacceptable”

They tend to attempt suicide often. It is more prevalent among females.

4. Antisocial Personality Disorder – It boasts of chronic behavioural patterns, such as failure to confirm to social or legal codes, a lack of anxiety and guilt and irresponsible behaviours. Its uniqueness rests in the fact that the person has little guilt for wrongdoing resulting in lying and aggressive sexual acts. Lack of intellectual skills plus moral and ethical standards perverted with loss of power of self governance, incapability of conducting himself with decency and propriety in the business of life. He suffers from inability to learn from past experience, hence continue with such behaviour and have frequent encounter with illegal authorities; more in males.

Anxious, Fearful :
1. Avoidant Personality Disorder – Fear of rejection and humiliation and reluctance
to enter into social relations with low self esteem indicate to this disorder which
also talks of craving for affection and active social life and no desire to be alone.

2. Dependent Personality Disorder – People who rely on others and are unwilling to
assume responsibility, lack self confidence and subordinate their needs to those on
whom they depend.

3. Obsessive compulsive Personality Disorder – It is based on perfectionism, a
tendency to be interpersonally controlling, rigidity, more in males.


Sheldon and Eleanor Gluek have identified a number of personality traits that they believe characterize antisocial youth:

 Self assertiveness
 Defiance
 Extroversion
 Ambivalence
 Impulsiveness
 Narcissism
 Suspicion
 Destructiveness
 Sadism
 Lack of concern for others
 Feeling unappreciated
 Distrust of authority
 Poor personal skills
 Mental instability
 Hostility
 Resentment

Psychologists have been studying every aspect of human personality over the years- emotions, temperament, morals and ethics as well as specific traits such as aggression, conformity, self esteem and timidity.

There have been evolved two standardized personality tests:

Projective Techniques

It require a subject to react to an ambiguous picture or shape by describing what it represents or by telling a story about it.

Rorschach Inkblot Test Thematic Apperception Test

Personality Inventory

It require subjects to agree or disagree with groups of questions in a self administered survey.


MMPI: Between 1950 to 1967, a reliable test became widely operative for assessing criminal personality, called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory developed by r. Starke Hathaway and J. Mc Kinley. It is split into 10 scales and the subject is given a score on each scale. The individual personality is then constructed from a score profile obtained by entering the scores from each scale onto graph. The 10 scales indicate an assessment of hypochondria, depression, conversion hysteria, psychopathic personality, masculinity- feminity, paarnoia, neurosis, schizophrenia, hypomania…..
The items which the study by Waldo and Dinitz had found most often distinguished criminal from non-criminal lay in the Psychopathic personality scale.

CPI : It stands for California personality Inventory. To assess such personality traits like control, aggression, alienation and well being, the weapon is MPQ or Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire. Researched by Caspi, MPQ scales can produce robust personality correlates of delinquency and these measures are valid across genders, races and cultures. Adolescent offenders who are crime prone respond to frustrating events with strong negative emotions, feel stressed and harassed and are adversarial in their interpersonal relationships.

Interpersonal Maturity Test

A further level of tests which emerged was based on social maturity levels of individuals, often called interpersonal maturity or I-Level tests. Here individuals are tested for their social and interpersonal skills and placed on corresponding level of maturity.

Conclusion :

The above tests suggest that there is a link between criminality and assertiveness, hostility resentment of authority, dynamic personalities and psychopathy. Crime prone paeople maintain negative emotionality – a tendency to experience aversive states such as anger, anxiety and irritability; are predisposed to weak personality, personal constraints and have difficulty controlling impulsive behavioural urges. A common theme is that criminals are hyperactive, impulsive individuals with short attention spans, conduct disorders, anxiety and depression leading to drug abuse and sexual promiscuity and violence, psychopathology ( people sharing this trait have character defect called antisocial, sociopathic or psychopathic.)

However not to ignore that some of the personality traits found in criminal group could derive from their treatment by the justice system, rather than from something inherent in their characters. Thus these minor personality differences could be a consequence of their contact to police and court rather than being a cause for it.

In any event thus it seems that personality trait will not determine the criminal behaviour, but will only predict a certain type of behaviour, of criminality is but one example. Moreover it the situation and not ones individual personality that decides his behaviour.

The Cambridge Study found that really significant links were not with personality, but between offending behaviour and impulsivity.

Personality theories are more scientific than those of psychoanalyst, as they rely less on assessment and explanation of phenomenon and draw more on mainly objective tests. Most theories assume that each individual has central or core personality which can explain reactions to most stimuli determining the likelihood of becoming criminally involved, much controversy as to the nature of this core personality.

Also diagnosing personality disorders is difficult for 3 primary reasons:
1. We all exhibit some or the other traits at varying degree.
2. The symptoms overlap for the disorders.
3. Clinicians may not adhere to diagnostic criteria.

An interesting use of personality test in criminal law !!

In recent years, personality typing has been used in USA to help detect certain types of criminals especially serial killers classified into 4 types:

 Visionary Motive Type.
 Mission Oriented Motive Type
 Hedonistic Type
 Power Oriented Type

Such profile helps to target the investigation area by describing a possible type of individual, supplementing the investigative procedure.

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