Mental Health

The PSYCHOLOGY of a CRIMINAL


First I think it’s important to understand what parts of the brain are involved in our decision making. There is the amygdala which is a small almond shaped portion of our temporal lobe and it’s responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. I have talked about this portion when it comes to managing trauma or upset because the amygdala is like our brain’s fire alarm. It sounds when we are upset or angry and when we are children, they believe this is what causes us to throw tantrums. Next, there’s the frontal lobe. Just like it sounds this is at the very front of our brain behind our forehead. This is responsible for emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behaviors. It is, in essence, the “control panel” of our personality and our ability to communicate. Last, there is the hippocampus, which is part of our limbic system and it is connected to our amygdala. It is responsible for memory and more specifically our long term memory.

Second, it’s important to note that if we grow up around people who are committing crimes, or harming others in front of us, we can be slowly conditioned to believe that that is normal and what’s okay to do in life. Just like we can notice ourselves acting like another member of our family (in the way we talk or gesture) those who are raised by criminals or sociopaths can pick up on their actions and mannerisms and act just like them. In psychology we call this Observational Learning.
There are obviously other ways to learn, like if we are jumped into a gang and forced (by fear of physical harm) to commit crimes, yet rewarded when we complete the illegal task we can learn that being a criminal is acceptable and how we stay safe and belong. We call that Operant Conditioning. And if you are only rewarded when you engage in illegal or harmful behavior (let’s say your family or caregivers only reward you or laugh with you when you do something harmful to someone else, then you will keep doing that harmful thing). We all want to be rewarded, noticed, and cared for, so we will learn to keep doing whatever gets us what we need. This is called Classical Conditioning.
I bring up all 3 types of learning to show you that it is possible to be shaped into becoming a criminal. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t still responsible for the choices we make, we are, but I do believe that certain situations could in essence create a criminal. I love this Ted Talk by John Rigg where he discusses how trauma to our brain can affect our behaviors. It’s fascinating and very important to understand. https://youtu.be/m9Pg4K1ZKws
Aside from people who commit crimes and are involved in illegal activity, there are also people with Antisocial Personality Disorder. I have an old video all about what it is and how it’s diagnosed. Many with ASPD can be very charming and seductive in order to get what they want, so be careful out there.

Last, there are some signs that we believe are precursors to becoming a criminal. They are: being male (I know this is a bit crazy, but statistically speaking most criminals are male), having a prior record of aggression, physical abuse in childhood, having a substance-abusing parent, having a diagnosis of an adjustment disorder, evidence of psychopathy, a paranoid attitude, and fantasizing about harming others. They also find that those who have been diagnosed with ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) or CD (conduct disorder) are more predisposed for ASPD as well.

Video on ASPD: https://youtu.be/VSdyktUjZSI
Video on Toxic Relationships: https://youtu.be/vAcWIRuoZRc

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I’m Kati Morton, a licensed therapist making Mental Health videos!

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