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10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Criminal Conduct

Criminal conduct is an act of crime. While some of us have never or may never experience criminal conduct in any capacity, it is something we are all aware of to an extent. It is the reason why laws exist. It is the reason why we obey laws to avoid punishment. It is the reason why we take levels of protection to keep ourselves and the people we love safe. 

In the eyes of criminal justice, criminal conduct is separated into two categories. The categories are crimes against a person and property crimes. While these two categories are relatively vague, they are are meant to show the differences between types of crimes. Crimes against a person refers to murder, assault, battery, kidnapping, rape, etc. Property crimes refers to arson, larceny, criminal trespassing, burglary, criminal mischief, and more. Linking criminal conduct to psychology means understanding the motives behind crimes, who commits crime, the punishment for crimes, and so on. Here are 10 things to know about the psychology of criminal conduct…

Criminal psychology is a branch of psychology.

Criminal psychology is a specific field of study when it comes to understanding human patterns and behaviors. It is the study of thoughts, views, motifs, actions, and reactions of people who commit crimes. Criminals may do what they do for a wide array of reasons but regardless, there is always a motive. Criminals can also come from many different backgrounds and upbringings. But ultimately, something in their psychology is aligning and making them capable of committing crimes. A criminal psychologist aims to deeply understand and uncover what makes someone commit a crime as well as how to effectively rehabilitate criminals. 

Crimes rates go up and down over the years. 

There are many reasons why crime rates tend to go up and down over time. An increase in crime in an area can be due to many factors. The factors typically include an increase in things such as:

  • poverty
  • unemployment
  • lack of gun control
  • insufficient health care
  • racism
  • poor school systems
  • mental illness
  • families with single parents
  • drug issues and more.

When these unfortunate circumstances are prevalent in an area, crime rate naturally increases. 

A decrease in crime rates makes for a healthier and happier environment. When the criminal justice system works with an area to create safer neighborhoods they are prioritizing all of these negative factors that increase crime rates. This includes:

  • increasing police presence
  • increasing incarceration rates
  • providing employment, housing, and healthcare for those in need
  • managing gun control
  • providing rehabilitation, and more. 

There are factors that influence criminal conduct and behavior.

When someone is involved in criminal conduct, it is motivated by certain internal factors. While there is no gene that makes someone a criminal, the combination of these factors may make some more likely to commit crimes. Whether it’s once or continuous, biological, sociological, and psychological factors influence crime in people. This makes it clear that all aspects of criminal conduct are rooted in psychology. 


People may commit crimes because of their biology.

The Prefrontal Cortex, the Amygdala, and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex are parts of the human brain. The Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for our reasoning and self control. The Amygdala is responsible for how people feel fear, aggression, and how they interact socially. The Anterior Cingulate Cortex controls our impulses and regulates our behaviors. Damage to any of these parts of the human brain may make some far more comfortable and likely to commit crimes throughout their lives. These parts are also not fully developed until humans are in their mid 20’s. This make crimes among children more common. Biological factors such as testosterone, dopamine, and serotonin levels also play a big role in criminal conduct. 

People may commit crimes because of their sociological factors. 

Many theories claim that sociological factors are one of the biggest influences in what pushes people towards criminal conduct. There are many possible sociological factors involved here but there are some more common ones across the board. One theory claims that crime is motivated by neighborhood dynamics, not individuals. For example, socioeconomic disadvantages, poor housing, poor health care available, etc. Another theory claims that cultural and social standards and upbringings create pressure that push people towards crime. There are many other sociological theories that experts believe increase crime as well.


People may commit crimes because of their inner psychology. 

Experts also believe that someone’s psychological make up may make them more likely to commit crimes. Certain personality traits are tied to criminal and inappropriate behavior. These qualities may include:

  • boldness
  • lack of remorse
  • substance abuse issues
  • poor self control
  • inability to problem solve
  • ease of lying, and more.

There are many theories as to why someone may have developed or been born with personality traits such as these. 

The way we are raised can make someone more likely to commit crimes.

Unfortunately, we cannot choose who raised us and how we are raised. Children who are raised in bad situations may be more likely to be involved in criminal conduct in their lives. Growing up in an extremely bad situation, their juvenile and adult years are at a higher risk of involving crime. This can be due to:

  • a lack of guardianship,
  • emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • never being taught appropriate behaviors
  • struggling to make ends meet, and more.

A child who is raised in a stressful home is at a higher risk of finding trouble than a child who is raised in a safe and responsible environment.

Crimes against a person and property crimes may not ever overlap. 

Just because someone is a criminal does not mean that all possible crimes are on the table. Depending on a criminal’s psychology, the types of crimes they commit may vary. As we mentioned above, crimes against a person refers to:

  • murder
  • assault
  • battery
  • kidnapping
  • rape, etc.

Property crimes refers to:

  • arson
  • larceny
  • criminal trespass
  • burglary
  • criminal mischief, and more.

All of these categories of criminal conduct are very serious and have consequences. However, someone who is capable of burglary or trespassing may not be capable of murder or kidnapping. Categories of criminal conduct are specific. No one person is the same because well…our brains are different! 

Children and adults are handled differently in terms of criminal conduct.

There is a reason why when speaking of criminal conduct, there are specific terms for age. In the court system, someone is either a juvenile or an adult. Traditionally, when a juvenile is being tried for a crime, their punishment is more lenient. There is a hope that juveniles, or children, will be rehabilitated and leave their criminal conduct in the past. They are still growing, learning, and as we mentioned above – likely came from a troubled background. Differently terminology exists as an attempt to rehabilitate adolescents rather than punish them. When an adult is caught committing a crime they are punished.

Any career in criminal justice is hard work for many reasons. 

Seeing as criminal conduct is closely tied to psychology, you can imagine that a career in the field is not a walk in the park. Earning a degree in criminal justice and making it a career is an admirable choice for anyone. A degree in criminal justice will make someone qualified to enter the field as a:

  • police officer
  • criminal investigator
  • special agent
  • private detective
  • correctional officer
  • probation officer
  • parole officer, and more.

These jobs can be highly stressful and emotional. They can also be rewarding and fulfilling. 

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