Written By Kitanjalee Singh
Psychology and crime are two distinct fields of study that are combined to assess an individual's mental state, feelings, and required mens rea when committing a crime. Psychology, inevitably, plays a vital role in the legal profession, particularly in criminal law. The use of psychology-related terms in criminal law is essential for the formulation of offence ingredients. The terminology aid in the achievement of the criminal law's goals. The objective of this paper is to establish a link between psychology and crime, as well as how psychological factors contribute to criminal behaviour around the world. It also emphasises the importance of psychology with a great emphasis on criminal psychology along with the role of a criminal psychologist. In addition, this paper analyses what influences an individual to commit a crime, as its significance to not just punish a criminal but to know their desire or intention behind that act and also what could have been a criminal’s instant reaction to it. Therefore, criminal behaviour can be stated as “any kind of antisocial behaviour, which is punishable usually by law but can be punished by norms, stated by the community.”
The word crime conjures up images of criminal activity that is outlawed and punishable by the law. Most countries have developed criminal codes that recognise this type of crime. Criminal behaviour differs from country to country; an act that is criminal in one country may be permissible in another. Both men’s rea and actus rea must be present at the same time to establish criminal action. However, psychological variables play a significant role in the emergence of numerous criminal behaviours. Criminal behaviour is defined as a proclivity for breaking laws and engaging in criminal activity or activities.
Psychology researches human behaviour, while the law controls it. Both, however, strive to improve society and people’s quality of life. Psychology is the study of mind and behaviour in connection to a specific field of knowledge or activity, and it is the science of mind and behaviour. The study of psychology is the study of the human mind and how it influences people’s behaviour. Since the beginnings of modern psychology, it has focused on understanding crimes and criminal conduct. Criminal psychology is a discipline of psychology that helps us understand the psychological underpinnings of such heinous criminal acts, as well as what goes on in offenders’ heads. It investigates offenders’ goals, ideas, behaviours, and reactions that contribute to criminal behaviour, as well as measures to prevent similar crimes from occurring in society. Criminal psychologists’ roles in the criminal justice system have expanded, ranging from investigative work to testifying as expert witnesses in court.
STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
This research paper analyses how crucial has psychology been in the field of law. It talks particularly about criminal law, wherein, the role of psychologists has been given utmost importance. In addition, this paper reviews the way a psychologist takes into consideration the act and the state of mind of a criminal which is when the psychologist tries to establish an alignment between the mens rea and the actus rea. Alongside, this paper discusses theories on human nature with regards to crime, to form a connection between them. On that account, this paper studies that whether one commits a crime because he is a criminal or does one become a criminal when he commits a crime.
The research question which will be dealt with in the research work is:
“If Psychology is significant for Criminal Law, then how does it help and what role does a psychologist play in there?”
The hypothesis made by the researcher about the possible outcome is that despite the distinctiveness of both the subjects, i.e., psychology and law, specifically criminal law, they are still supplementary to each other. Along with this, the researcher is certain that the behaviour of an individual is influenced by several other factors leading the offender to a grievous and wrongful act of that nature, in addition, the role of a psychologist may help understand the sequence of happenings and would be able to help improve the criminal’s state of being.
The objective of this research work is to ascertain how are psychology and crime-related despite the vast disparateness between them. In addition, this research takes account of the theories which argue the factor given by them to be the sole contributor of influencing the behaviour of an individual. Moreover, this paper particularly reflects on the work of a criminal psychologist with reference to criminal law, specifically.
HISTORICAL REFLECTION OF PSYCHOLOGY AND CRIME
PSYCHOLOGY AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN LAW
HUMAN NATURE AND CRIME
WHAT INFLUENCES BEHAVIOUR IN CRIMINALS?
CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGISTS AND THEIR ROLE
ROLE OF A CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGIST
CRITICISM OF PSYCHOLOGY
HISTORICAL REFLECTION OF CRIME AND PSYCHOLOGY
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many psychologists began to offer psychological perspectives on the primary cause of delinquent behaviour and started to speculate the causes of crime. Psychologists like Havelock Ellis, Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Goddard asserted that most offenders were “mentally deficient,” which led to the belief that a primary cause of delinquency and crime is “intellectual limitation.” This belief was largely influenced by the Darwinian’s Theory of Evolution, which contended that humans differ only in degree from their animal brethren. The “mentally deficient” were considered both morally and intellectually less capable of adapting to modern society. As a result, these people failed to progress and therefore, resorted to more primitive ways of meeting their needs including committing crimes.
Scholars such as Hans J. Eysenck was also strongly influenced by Darwinian thinking. In 1964, Eysenck in his book, ‘Crime and Personality’, he formulated the first comprehensive theoretical statement on criminal behaviour advanced by a psychologist. His theory focused on the personality characteristics of extraversion and introversion, which he believed is attributed to both a biological predisposition to seek (extravert) or avoid the (introvert) sensation.
Therefore, this was the start for various other psychologists to work on the relationship between crime and psychology, thereafter, many theories were being put forward and consequently, today, we can draw up their significance.
Since then, psychology has taken a scientific approach, towards criminal behaviour and has asserted that there can be innumerable psychological reasoning as to why an individual commits a crime or associates oneself with criminal activity.
WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN LAW?
Psychology is a science that studies the mental aspect of an individual that determines human behaviour. In other words, psychology studies the mind of humans and its effect on their behaviour. It also covers the conscious and unconscious states of mind.
Psychology plays a vital role in the legal realm as well. It helps in determining the mens rea of a criminal while he committed the crime, moreover, it also determines what punishment should be granted keeping in view the person’s psychological frame of mind. Psychology also helps in deciding the veracity of witnesses, as often there are cases when an eyewitness is either influenced by the accused or is afraid of the accused. Subsequently, psychology can help in reducing all these false confessions.
Psychological research focuses on a variety of topics with social and legal implications. It is based on the psychological and empirical research of legal institutions and aids in focusing on legal psychology rather than clinically-oriented forensic psychology. Thus, justice is ensured in absolute terms by taking into account the psychological characteristics of a human mind when pronouncing a judgement.
Psychology has also started considering whether the criminal is suffering from any mental disorder, therefore, consequently, it suggests that such individuals should be medically treated and should not be punished. This significant change in the psychology of deinstitutionalisation of the mentally ill with a better understanding of the causes and treatments for these disorders has helped in how the criminal justice system treats mentally ill persons.
Psychology has undeniably become an integral part of the legal system in this era. Though psychology may not be considered as a discipline that is relevant to the law by some legal authorities but unquestionably, it does assist the decision-makers by providing accurate images and pictures of human perceptions and preferences.
HUMAN NATURE & CRIME
Human Nature and Crime is one of the most prominent theoretical works in criminology. Crime by most people was thought to be a course of action that should never be taken, whereas others perceived that criminal behaviour provided many rewards. Most people had internalized fears about committing a crime and therefore, controlled or deterred from committing by the mere threat of being prosecuted by the criminal justice system, whereas, others were not only behaviorally uninhibited and prone to commit a crime but also, seemed to rarely or even never learn from punishment experiences. Consequently, the former group could successfully abstain from criminal activity, at least to the degree of never acquiring an arrest record but the latter group could accumulate extensive arrest records based on the seriousness and frequency with which they committed a crime and other antisocial behaviours.
Bartol after reviewing the underlying assumptions about human nature identifies the three major theories on Human Nature and Crime:
- Conformity Perspective:
The Strain Theory by Robert King Merton argues that ‘humans are fundamentally good people and conforming beings who are strongly influenced by values and attitudes of the society in which they live’. This theory assumes that humans are the creatures of conformity who want to do the ‘right thing’. Here, the right thing is what society considers to be right. Education, family and social network influence can help access this right thing. Crime and delinquency occur when there is a ‘perceived discrepancy’ between the materialist values and goals cherished and the availability of legitimate means. Consequently, individuals and groups, those who experience a high level of strain are ultimately forced to decide whether to accept or violate norms or laws, as a result, they conform, withdraw or rebel.
- Non-conformist Perspective:
This theory assumes that human beings are undisciplined creatures and if they are given a chance, they would flout society’s convention and commit crimes indiscriminately. The Social Control Theory of Travis Hirschi asserts that crime and delinquency occur when individual ties to the conventional or normative orders and standards are largely nonexistent, wherein the checks and balances of the society are at fault. This theory argues that human nature is fundamentally ‘bad’ or ‘antisocial’.
- The third perspective claims that human beings are ‘neutral’ by birth and they learn all their behaviours and beliefs from the social environment. For instance, the Differential Association Theory of Sutherland. This theory states that criminal behaviour is not a result of emotional disturbance, mental illness or innate qualities of goodness or badness rather is learned through social interaction with other people. The conventional wisdom that “bad company promotes bad behaviour” aptly summarizes the theme that people learn to be criminals as a result of the messages they get from others, who were also thought to be criminals.
WHAT INFLUENCES BEHAVIOUR IN CRIMINALS?
The task of explaining delinquent and criminal behaviour is approached by psychologists by focusing on an individual’s personality. They are particularly interested in the methods through which behaviour and restraints on behaviour are taught. These processes are frequently thought to be the outcome of biological predispositions and social experiences interacting. Those who work in the criminal justice system rapidly discover that understanding the criminology theories that explain why people commit crimes is critical to lowering crime rates and making society safer. After decades of research on the criminal mind, three major psychological theories haTo theory.
4.1 PSYCHODYNAMIC THEORY
The works of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) were among the first psychological theories of crime. His psychodynamic theory focused on a person’s early childhood experiences and how they influence their proclivity to commit a crime.
Freud claimed that human nature is a great reservoir of instinctual drives, i.e., “id”, the desire for gratification. These are regulated by the moral and ethical codes, i.e., “superego” and adults eventually acquire a rational personality, i.e., “ego” that mediates between the id and superego. According to this theory, criminal behaviour is primarily viewed as a failure of the superego. Subsequently, criminal behaviour, according to psychodynamic theory, is a conflict between the id, ego, and superego. People can develop problematic behaviour and delinquency as a result of this tension but the challenge with this theory is that it’s tough to put to the test.
4.2 BEHAVIOURAL THEORY
Later, the psychological theories of crime were based on behavioural theory. Behavioural theory is concerned with how one’s view of the environment affects one’s actions. This theory is based on the notion that human conduct evolves over time. Behavioural theory, in particular, is concerned with the premise that people form their behaviour in response to the reactions of others around them. This is a type of conditioning in which a behaviour is learned and reinforced by either reward or punishment. As a result, if a person is in the company of individuals who condone and even reward unlawful activity – particularly a figure of authority – they will continue to do so.
Albert Bandura, a social learning theorist, claims that people are not born with the ability to act aggressively. Instead, he proposes that people learn aggressive behaviour by watching others. In most cases, family, environmental experiences and the media are the most common sources of this information.
4.3 COGNITIVE THEORY
The cognitive theory looks at how people’s perceptions can lead to criminal behaviour. This theory is concerned with how humans perceive the world and how that view influences their behaviours, ideas, and feelings. Most cognitive theorists divide the process into three stages, which they refer to as “moral development.”
- PRE-CONVENTIONAL LEVEL
This is about how youngsters learn about the external consequences of their activities. Criminals, according to cognitive theorists, do not develop moral judgement beyond a pre-conventional level.
- CONVENTIONAL LEVEL
This affects teenagers and young adults, who start to model their conduct after society’s values and expectations.
- POST-CONVENTIONAL LEVEL
Over the age of 20, the emphasis is on evaluating the moral worth of social norms and rules in relation to principles of liberty, human welfare, and human rights.
Concludingly, all three of these criminology theories are constantly scrutinised and revised, but they serve as the bedrock for current concepts. All these theories give a framework for comprehending human cognition, behaviour, and growth. One can better comprehend ourselves and others if we have a wide understanding of the how’s and why’s of human behaviour. Thus, each theory establishes a framework for comprehending a specific aspect of human behaviour.
CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGISTS AND THEIR ROLE
5.1 CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGISTS
Psychologists are licensed experts who are capable of evaluating both mental and physical health. They seek patterns in behaviour that might be used to connect the perpetrators of a crime.
Criminal psychology studies criminals’ and those who participate in criminal behaviour’s motives, behaviours, reactions, perspectives, and thoughts. Their goal is to understand not just what motivates someone to commit a crime, but also how they behave afterwards, whether on the run or in court. It provides an answer to the question of why criminals do what they do.
A criminal psychologist plays an important role in every judicial system since they can reveal significant facts about offenders that can help solve cases. Criminal psychologists undertake investigations, such as examining crime scene images or conducting an interview with a suspect. They are sometimes required to create a hypothesis in order to predict what an offender would do next after breaking the law.
The question of an offender’s ability to stand trial is a reflection of his or her current mental state. This evaluates the offender’s ability to comprehend the charges levelled against them, the possible consequences of being convicted or acquitted of these charges, and their willingness to cooperate with their attorney in their defence.
In addition, the question of sanity, insanity or rather of the criminal responsibility is overall an assessment of the offender’s mental condition at the time of the crime. This refers to their ability to distinguish between good and wrong as well as what is against the law. Since insanity is so difficult to show, the insanity defence is rarely used. Indeed, if a criminal is declared insane, they are confined to a secure hospital facility for a significantly longer period than they would have spent in prison.
5.2 ROLE OF A CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGIST
A major part of criminal psychology began in the 1940s and is known as “Criminal Profiling”. The process of examining the behavioural patterns of a crime or series of crimes in order to primarily develop a descriptive pattern of the probable culprit is known as criminal psychological profiling. The criminal psychologist also studies the thoughts and behaviour of the criminals.
Criminal profiling, also known as offender profiling, is the technique of determining an offender’s most likely attributes based on their activities at the crime scene. This is used to assist police detectives in narrowing down and prioritizing a suspect pool.
Criminal profiling is also referred to as criminal investigative analysis. Profilers are known as criminal investigative analysts, are trained and experienced law enforcement agents who examine every behavioural feature and detail of an unsolved violent crime scene with a significant amount of psychopathology.
Later, in 1981, Professor Lionel Haward, one of the founding fathers of UK criminal psychology, described four ways that a psychologist can perform while professionally involved in criminal proceedings. They are as follows:
CLINICAL: In this case, the psychologist is involved in the evaluation of a person to render a clinical judgement. In order to aid in their assessment, the psychologist can employ assessment instruments, interviews, or psychometric tools. These evaluations can assist police and other such groups in determining how to handle the person in question. For example – determining if a person is capable of standing trial or whether they have a mental disease that affects their ability to comprehend the proceedings.
EXPERIMENTAL: In this case, the psychologist’s task is to research to provide information for a case. This may entail conducting experimental testing to demonstrate a point or provide additional information to the courts. This could include things like fake memory, eyewitness credibility tests, and more. For instance, this method might be used to answer questions like “how likely would a witness observe an object in 100 meters?”
ACTUARIAL: This function entails the use of statistics to help with a case. A psychologist may be asked to estimate the likelihood of an occurrence. For example, if a sentence is not imposed, the courts may inquire about the likelihood of reoffending.
ADVISORY: A psychologist may offer advice to police on how to proceed with the investigation in this situation. Psychologists, for example, can assist in determining the best approach to interrogate the individual, the best way to cross-examine a vulnerable or another expert witness, and how an offender will conduct after committing the crime.
CRITICISM OF PSYCHOLOGY
Despite the importance and uses of psychology in investigating crimes and examining criminals, psychology has still been criticised on some grounds. In some aspects, the science of psychology conflicts with the legal system. Fundamentally, the goals and techniques of scientific investigation differ significantly from those of legal investigation.
To begin with, science is deductive. Researchers look at data from a variety of field investigations, correlational research and experiments to come up with a set of tentative, probabilistic findings. At least in criminal law, the law requires an answer that is beyond a reasonable doubt. As well as, the amicus brief, which is applied to a psychologist’s work because, due to a lack of expertise, the amicus brief is frequently referenced just to defend the psychologist’s personal ideas. Moreover, psychology only covers a few spheres and as a result is helpful only to them, for instance to criminal law, family law, etc.
In addition, scientific results are provisional and subject to falsification, and they evolve when new data, methodology, and perspectives emerge. Without consideration from state or federal supreme courts, court rulings establish precedents that are difficult to overturn. To put it another way, science cannot guarantee future results, but the law looks to past legal precedents to assess truth and guide future legislation. In brief, psychology is a science and therefore, certainty cannot be granted by science, but the law requires certainty.
In a nutshell, there are numerous advantages and disadvantages of psychology under legal studies for which it is sometimes appreciated and other times criticised. However, it has become a fundamental aspect of the legal system in this era.
In this Research paper, I sought to demonstrate the evolution of psychology, showing the significant role psychologists play in the field of law, particularly, criminal law. Psychology is not just concerned with punishing a criminal but moreover, with the behaviour pattern which an individual inhibited while performing a criminal act.
Psychology aids in understanding the requisite men’s rea of the offender and therefore, incorporating it in the legal system will assist us in fathoming criminal behaviour and patterns, reducing crime in society and preventing people from turning to criminal activities.
The importance of criminal psychologists is emphasised in this paper, which highlights the expansion of psychology in the criminal justice system. Following that, it is critical to include the psychological side of criminal conduct in the legal system for a thorough understanding and reduction of criminal behaviour in society, as criminals are frequently victims of bad psychological conditions.
The contribution by psychology has ever since been a benediction for the health institution of administration of justice. Nowadays, psychologists are also studying law to apply their expertise to the legal system and strengthen it. The goals of both disciplines will be realised if legal and psychological research recognises the specific issues that the psychological study of law poses. Finally, I firmly believe that the participation of psychological scientists and their ability to solve legal issues should always be aspired for.
- The basics for psychology, law and crime are available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/law-and-crime#psychology-and-the-law
- The essentials of criminal psychology can be referred at
- Article on criminal psychology can be referred at
- The psychological theories of crime are available at
- The science of criminology is available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2899996/#CIT3
- Basics of psychology and law are available at
- Criticisms of psychology with regards to the law can be referred at
- For psychology and law referred