Unravelling of the Criminal Mind: A psychological perspective

Unravelling of the Criminal Mind: A psychological perspective

Unravelling of the Criminal Mind: A psychological perspective

In a recent incident a 20-year-old woman, Tammana Jahan posing as an ASI was arrested in Tilak Nagar (West Delhi) for imposing fake challans on passerby for not wearing face masks mandatory during COVID restrictions. The profiling of the person revealed that she was unemployed, had married against the wishes of her family, failed to clear the UPSC exam. Could this be a profile of a person lead to crime due to inherent physiological, demographic, socio-economic and psychological dysfunctions? This question will be studied in detail during this article to understand how an average person can gravitate towards crime either due to one or more complex reasons as postulated in the question above.

Physiological and Psychological Attribution towards Crime
Drug and alcohol abuse, parental neglect and abuse, self-esteem issues, depression and psychosomatic illnesses are some of the reasons that can also be associated with the reasons for committing crimes. Yet their understanding remains nascent to the untrained mind and needs to be studied in depth if we are to unravel the workings of a criminal mind.
On the physiological front the human brain has the amygdala — involved in fear, aggression and social interactions — is implicated in crime. Research has conclusively proven that people with lower amygdala volumes were more than three times more likely to be aggressive, violent and to show psychopathic traits than people with more normal-sized amygdala — independent of factors including history of violence and social background. fMRI studies have led to suggest that amygdala functioning — not just size — is also more likely to be reduced among those with psychopathic tendencies.The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which plays a major role in behavior regulation and impulsivity, has also been linked to crime. fMRI scans of brains of  adult male prison inmates while they completed a cognitive task involving inhibitory control, found that prisoners with lower ACC activity were twice as likely to reoffend four years after they left prison than prisoners with higher ACC activity. So neurobiological information can be useful in future prediction of violence.
Psychological, and particularly trait theories are generally referred to as propensity theories in criminology. There are three kinds of theories that suggest a connection between personality traits and criminal aggressive behavior (CAB).

First, there are those postulating that personality traits are essentially descriptive factors (i.e., they are covariates that correlate with antisocial behavior, or differentiate criminals and non-criminals). Second, there are theories positing that personality traits can influence the decision about and perpetration of crimes. Third, there are theories that notify that early dispositions (temperament or personality traits) have a causal or explanatory contribution, either direct or indirect, in increasing the risk of criminal aggressive behavior CAB onset.
For these theories, personality traits are risk factors, not simply covariates. Psychologists in their studies have suggested that two broad personality traits are important factors related to antisocial involvement, namely low self-control and high irritability (or anger). They also have suggested that high negative emotionality and daring (boldness, thrill seeking, and recklessness) and low pro-sociality (helpfulness, sympathy for others) during childhood increase the risk of developing later antisocial behavior. Children with low effortful control and high negative emotionality are at higher risk for developing a perpetual pathway of antisocial behavior. According to the famous psychologist Eysenck, individuals high on the scale of extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism are more likely to commit crimes.

Psychopathy theory is important for understanding the connections between personality traits and CAB. Psychopathy is a complex construct encompassing an individual’s personality characteristics. It has four correlated factors, namely (1) interpersonal functioning (narcissism, Machiavellianism), (2) affective functioning (callousness, un-emotionality), (3) impulsive lifestyle (impulsivity, stimulation seeking), and (4) antisocial behavior (past and current). The first three factors are clearly related to personality traits.
The concept of low self-control is also an important study which is gaining prominence in understanding the criminal antecedents. An individual with low self-control will be more likely to prefer routine activities that offer excitement and thrills, which will in turn increase the number of occasions to perpetrate a criminal or antisocial act. In line with other developmental-typological theories anti-sociality is primarily a question of early and stable antisocial propensity (personality) rather than opportunities. Transitory anti-sociality is the result of weak propensity and opportunities, and common anti-sociality is mainly the result of opportunities. This model maintains that certain personality traits are either concurrently correlated to CAB or distinguish criminals from non-criminals. Meta-analytic studies of the Big Five personality dimensions have revealed correlation between personality and CAB. Overall, agreeableness and conscientiousness are the strongest correlates of CAB. Openness is the only trait of the Big Five model that is not clearly related to CAB. A recent meta-analysis confirmed that low agreeableness and conscientiousness and high neuroticism are related to CAB.     

A growing number of studies using typological or person-centered analyses identified three broad personality types: adjusted, over controlled, and under controlled. Individuals classified as under controlled types have a personality profile characterized by low agreeableness, low conscientiousness, and slightly higher extraversion. A number of cross-sectional studies with children, adolescents, and adults showed that under controlled individuals are those who tend to concurrently show the lowest school achievement and the highest externalizing and conduct problems, as well as delinquent behavior and substance use.
The personal, interpersonal, and community-reinforcement (PIC-R) theory was developed specifically to explain criminal behavior. It integrates control and learning perspectives while giving attention to the strongest predictors of criminal behavior. Central to the PIC-R theory are the major four predictors of criminal behavior: antisocial attitudes, antisocial associates, antisocial personality, and a history of antisocial behavior. One can see the link between this theory and others in some of these predictors.

More generally, the PIC-R theory suggests that the balance of benefits and costs from a particular antisocial act will determine whether it will be committed or not. There are four types of factors that influence this balance and determine whether a crime is committed: personal (e.g., antisocial attitudes, personality), interpersonal (e.g., antisocial associates, family), community (e.g., neighborhood influences), and situational (e.g., opportunities, stressors). For example, the personal factors of antisocial attitudes and personality may influence whether one derives self-reinforcement from a criminal act. In addition, interpersonal factors, such as antisocial associates, may influence whether one receives social reinforcement for a criminal act.Socio Economic Conditions as Causal Effect towards Crime
Man is a social animal and society offers the environment for his growth and nurturing. Society is an important factor for the individual either to be responsible or to steer towards an anti-social path, the one which leads to crime. Peer group has a deep impact on the psychology of a person and thus people living in violent societies surrounded by crime are known to develop criminal tendencies. Crime is known to lead to instant gratification for these individuals. The long and uninteresting path of education and subsequent growth does not appeal to their psyche and only professional counsellor assistance can draw them away from a life of crime. Economic sustenance from a life of crime coupled with cult recognition amongst violent communities perpetuates the feeling that a life riddled with crime is a better way of livelihood as compared to one mired in social isolation.
Low income communities are also known to foster crime. The interwoven link of a violent neighborhood and low income provides causal grounds for crime. Unemployment in society breeds susceptibility to resort to crime as a means of survival. If basic needs of an individual for food and shelter are not being met he/she becomes an ideal candidate for being involved with criminal activities as is borne from the example cited in the beginning of the article. Tamanna Jahan only inspired for economic and social security which fell through due to her not being able to clear the UPSC exam, non-acceptance of her marriage by her family and struggles with economic independence. The quest for economic and social affluence remains the primary grounds for turning ‘normal’ beings to turn into ‘abnormal’ ones to satisfy their skewed psychological, physiological and socio-economic needs. This conundrum is difficult to escape for people who are weighed down with societal pressures to be ‘successful’.

Interpretation of the case in link with the above factors.
The case portrays Tamanna Jahan in bad light due to her action of issuing fake challans by allegedly posing as an assistant sub inspector. The report suggests that she had married against the wishes of her family and had failed to crack the UPSC exam.
The economic aspect of her life was unsatisfactory as she was unemployed. Her low tolerance power and poor self control can be seen as the by-products of the failures that she had faced in her life. Her behavioral reactions to those failures— irritation, frustration, annoyance— are the clear indicators of her low endurance. The disillusionment and a sense of detachment caused by unfulfilled desires led to her anti-social behavior as a result of which she ended up committing a crime. It can further be assumed that she felt a high need for personalized power which she could not control due to low tolerance and low self control.

With crime, as with illness, prevention is better than cure. Prospective follow - up studies have identified notable early risk factors like impulsiveness, low school attainment, poor parental supervision and harsh or erratic parental discipline. Experimental studies depict that these risk factors can be tackled successfully in the early prevention programs, wherein the later offending can be reduced. Effective prevention techniques include cognitive - behavioral skills training, pre-school intellectual enrichment programs, and parent management training.
Cognitive behavioral therapy reduces recidivism in both juveniles and adults. The therapy assumes that most people can become conscious of their own thoughts and behaviors and then make positive changes to them.
A person's thoughts are often the result of experience, and behavior is often influenced and prompted by these thoughts. In addition, thoughts may become distorted sometimes and may fail to reflect on the reality accurately. Cognitive behavioral therapy programs, offenders improve their social skills, means-ends problem solving, critical reasoning, moral reasoning, cognitive style, self-control, impulse management and self-efficacy. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help restructure distorted thinking and perception, which in turn changes a person's behavior for the better. Characteristics of distorted thinking may include:

  1. Immature or developmentally arrested thoughts.
  2. Poor problem solving and decision making.
  3. An inability to consider the effects of one's behavior.
  4. An egocentric viewpoint with a negative view or lack of trust in other people.
  5. Declined ability to reason and accept blame for any kind of wrongdoings.
  6. A mistaken belief of entitlement, including an inability to delay gratification,
  7. confusing wants and needs, and ignoring the rights of other people.
  8. A tendency to indulge in impulsive acts, including a lack of self-control and empathy.
  9. An inability to manage feelings of anger.
  10. The use of force and violence as a means to achieve goals.

Therapy can help a person to address the above mentioned issues and change unproductive and detrimental beliefs, views and thoughts and lead a better life.At the individual-level, preschool intellectual enrichment and child skills training programs are effective in preventing delinquency and later offending. Preschool intellectual enrichment programs generally target children with the risk factors of low intelligence and attainment. Improved cognitive skills, school readiness, and social and emotional development are the main goals of these programs. Social skills training for children generally address the risk factors of impulsivity, low empathy, and self-centeredness.
At the family level, program features that are effective in preventing delinquency and later offending include general parent education in the context of home visiting and day care, as well as parent management training programs. Home visiting with new parents, especially mothers, is a prevalent method of delivering the family-based intervention. The primary goal of home visiting programs is to educate parents about parenting methods that improve the life chances of children from a young age. Parent management training involves training parents in ways to alter their children's behavior at home.

The need to study the criminal mind by psychologists and development of necessary ecosystems remains a challenge for the State and society. The imperative need to identify criminal mindsets is significant as it not only ensures safeguards for a non-violent society but indirectly leads to a cost benefit to the economy which otherwise is strained to spend on law enforcement. The State has a pivotal role to ensure that mental care workers, community (to include parents, schools and colleges) and law enforcement are inextricably sensitized and trained towards the aim of ensuring that criminal minds are identified in their development stage and their physiological and psychological growth impeded or programs introduced to curtail their recidivism. The challenge posed by crime needs nationalistic intervention if the scourge has to be tackled with earnestness. Some governments have been proactive on this front and their successful models must be replicated by others. The UN can also play a paramount role, being a global body, in coordinating the planning and execution models for prevention of crime. It would not be farfetched to state it’s a global issue which required joint-ness at all levels.

About the Author

Dr. Sonia Kapur
Assistant Professor.

Dr. Sonia Kapur is a renowned and reputed clinical psychologist. After having done her masters in psychology in 199

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