Discuss Eysenck’s Theory of Criminal Personality – Refer to Evidence in Your Answer (12 Marks)

618 Words Dec 27th, 2014 3 Pages
The term ‘personality’ is generally used to refer to relatively stable characteristics of a person that make their behaviour consistent across situations (but many other definitions are possible, depending on the approach being taken). Hans Eysenck (1964) put forward a theory of criminal behaviour based on a very influential theory of personality he had earlier devised. Although this theory is usually referred to as a personality theory of offending, it is important to appreciate that Eysenck’s theory conceives of criminal behaviour as the outcome of interactions between processes occurring at several different levels of explanation.

Eysenck’s theory suggests that crime arises from certain personality traits, which are biological in
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Each trait is normally distributed in the population. That is, most people have moderate E, N and P scores.

An issue arises from the way Eysenck conceived of personality as a set of stable traits, which cause people to behave consistently across situations. As noted above, this is just one of a range of possible approaches to personality. Some theories of personality suggest that no such consistency really exists. Mischel (1968), for example, argues that the apparent consistency in people’s behaviour is an illusion that arises from the fact that we typically observe people in similar situations. If we accept this line of argument then we must question the existence of the stable personality traits on which Eysenck’s theory rests.

On the other hand, Eysenck’s theory may point in some useful directions where it comes to preventing crime. His theory suggests that the underlying tendencies that eventually manifest themselves as criminal behaviour are detectable in childhood and that it may be possible to modify the socialization experiences of high-risk individuals so that they do not develop into offenders. This could lead to interventions based on parenting or early treatment for delinquency and hence may be of great practical benefit in reducing criminal behaviour.

In a study of prisoners, Farrington et al. (1982) found that where the participants tended to score high on psychoticism, they did not

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