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Do psychoanalytical theories offer a satisfactory expalnation of crime

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Do psychoanalytical theories offer a satisfactory explanation of crime? Within criminal psychology there is no one particular theory of crime but there are many psychological accounts. Psychoanalytical theories examine the significance of unconscious and irrational motivations in criminal behaviour. Crime is explained as an expression of unconscious pathological processes. There are many other plausible explanations of crime including learning theories and cognitive psychology. In this short piece I will examine these three areas of psychology to explain that no one theory can offer a satisfactory explanation of criminal behaviour. Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalytical theory however he did not give an explanation for crime but other psychologists later applied his ideas to criminal behaviour. Freud stated that the personality consists of a tripartite structure, the id, ego and superego. The id embodies natural drives and urges that are pleasure seeking and anti-social such as sexual or aggressive urges. The ego is that part of the id which had been modified by the direct influence of the external world through the medium of conscious perception. (Freud 1923 as citied in Gross 1992:592) The ego can be described as the rational, logical part of us that enables us to distinguish reality. The superego embodies the moral rules that a person acquires through socialisation within the family, society and includes the conscience. ...read more.


Specific techniques can be learnt from association with criminals but the favourable attitude does not have to come from the criminals but could come from law-abiding parents. (Putwain & Sammons 2002:47) There are problems with the theory in that it is seen to be unclear in its definitions and does not explain how some individuals in comparable circumstances do not turn to crime. It also does not state how attitudes can be measured and how many unfavourable attitudes are needed for someone to become criminal. Whilst this theory explains how individuals could acquire criminal tendencies it does not explain why, if you can learn crime what makes you actually commit it. (Blackburn as citied in Putwain & Sammons 2002:48) Skinner developed operant learning theory in which behaviour is determined by the environmental consequences it produces for the individual concerned. (Hollin) He suggested that when behaviour produces desirable consequences the behaviour will increase in frequency and is reinforced and if it produces undesirable consequences the behaviour will decrease and be punished. In other words we learn through receiving rewards and punishments. Jeffrey (1965) took both Sutherland's and Skinner's theories and refined them to create differential reinforcement theory. It suggests that criminal behaviour is operant behaviour: that is, within the context of associations that an individual experiences, criminal behaviour is acquired and maintained through by its reinforcing consequences. ...read more.


(Hollin as citied in Maguire 2002) This could explain why some criminals are seen to 'grow out' of criminality. This theory has been criticised on the basis that Kohlberg was explaining moral reasoning not moral behaviour. In conclusion psychoanalytical accounts do not offer a satisfactory explanation of crime but neither do any of the other theories on their own. Psychoanalytic theories concentrate on the unconscious, which is a contributing factor in the explanation of crime but the theory cannot explain all types of crime. Learning theories look at the values and beliefs that are learnt through the environment however they do not take into account internal or cognitive factors. Cognitive approaches help us to understand crime but do not explain the causes of crime. Cognitive theories focus on the individual and how the individual can be treated to change. This is why they are in favour with criminal justice at the moment. The theories assume that all offenders are the same however it is only crime itself that can be described in such a uniform way. In order to explain crime all the available theories including sociological theories need to be taken into account. As for psychoanalytical theories "Psychoanalytical theories stress the inner processes and conflicts as determinants of behaviour. However they do not ignore or neglect the environmental or social factors, but they favour the dynamic processes as playing a major role in the development of criminal behaviour". ...read more.

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