Individualistic explanations of criminality can go beyond the biological to consider the effects of cognition and personality in the emergence of violent behaviour.
Hans Eysenck first articulated his theory in Crime and Personality, published in 1964. He proposed that a child’s process of socialisation occurs through conditioning, as outlined by Pavlov. (See below image of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning, famously known as Pavlov’s Dog). .
Antisocial behaviour is discouraged through punishment by parents or teachers and this produces a natural fear response which serves to maintain socially acceptable behaviour.
Following on from this notion Eysenck proposed that certain people condition more easily to their environment than others, and this is as a result of their personality, which is created by both biological and social factors.
Eysenck argues that conditionability is in a large part genetically determined by the inherited characteristic of one’s nervous system (Hollin, 1992). Personality, as outlined by Eysenck comprises three main dimensions: Extroversion (E), Neuroticism (N), and Psychoticism (P), each of which comprises a spectrum upon which an individual can be placed. Eysenck suggests that “in general terms, we would expect persons with strong antisocial inclinations to have high P, high E, and high N scores” (p.58).
The ease with which these dimensions can be measured makes Eysenck’s theory very testable. Offenders have been found to have high scores for all three dimensions, (for a summary of this research see Bartol, 1999; Eysenck, 1987; Powell 1977) though the evidence for E is mixed, with some studies even reporting lower scores for offenders on this dimension (Hollin, 1989).
While there is immense support for the prediction that offenders will score high for P it is a rather tautological statement as “the measurement of the former includes items that look very much like the latter” (Furnham & Thompson, 1991, p586).
Conclusions which have been drawn from Eysenck’s personality theory have helped to expand other areas of research which have focused more closely upon the thinking patterns or cognitions that offenders have.
Some researchers, most notably Yochelson and Samenow (1976) have argued that criminals have different ways of thinking and reacting to events than non-criminals.
Narrative psychologists, most notably McAdams (1988) have explored the idea that, like literary constructions, we all create a personal story or narrative which can be analysed in terms of plot and theme.
Canter (1994) was the first to explore the idea that the ‘inner narratives’ of offenders can be explored. In his book Criminal Shadows (1994) he suggests that “through his actions the criminal tells us about how he has chosen to live his life. The challenge is to reveal his destructive life story; to uncover the plot in which crime appears to play such a significant part…” (p299).
In the criminal population their ‘criminal narrative’ can be studied to reveal the way the offender thinks about themselves, their victim and their crime.
In one major study discussed in Investigative Psychology: Offender Profiling and the Analysis of Criminal Action (2009) the ‘roles’ imprisoned offenders assigned themselves when committing a crime are explored. The roles questionnaire, which had been produced in an earlier study by Canter, Kaouri and Ioannou (2003), was given to 71 male offenders to complete.
This allowed a very abstract concept to be quantified and rendered measurable for the purpose of research. When an SSA (smallest space analysis) was conducted on the responses the results surprisingly demonstrated a close relationship with the four archetypal story forms (comedy, irony, tragedy and romance) outlined by Northrop Frye in his Anatomy of Criticism (1957).
The offenders responses could be grouped into four main archetypal roles; the victim, the adventurer, the professional and the revenger, depending upon how they viewed themselves in relation to their crime.
On the surface it may be difficult to understand how research into criminal narratives can be of use in the investigation of violent crime, but an understanding of the implicit narrative processes which underlie experience and behaviour may provide an interesting guide to understanding criminal actions and understanding how an offender sees his or her self and indeed their victims. It could also be employed to enrich interview strategies and thus maximize the amount of helpful information obtained from a suspect.
Narrative theory could also be expanded upon as a method of treatment for offenders who live by ‘faulty’ or dangerous narrative constructs. For example, those who regard themselves as victims, who have no control over their lives and end up committing violent acts because they have ‘no other option’, can be encouraged to adopt a more central locus of control and explore areas of life over which they do have control and influence. This may help to reduce rates of recidivism.