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People are not born as a criminal. In fact, they are born neutral but then learn criminal behavior as they get older. Why is that? They are born as neutral human beings, but what events cause deviance action? How do they learn? Individuals learn criminal behavior through outside influences or the events that happen in their past. Causes such as nature and the environment in which the person is brought up in are key factors to criminal behavior. The upbringing of an individual primarily shapes the future personality of said person. This is done through family or societal influences, imitation of one’s role models, being surrounded by criminal people or through media influences such as video games and violent movies.
It is theorized that a strong link exists between negative experiences from the past and criminal offenses that people do, since childhood is the basis for the growth of personality and forming the pathways that individuals take as adults. When an individual is going through a rough childhood, anger or frustration is created within the person who further increases their chances of taking the wrong path towards deviant behavior. Or when an individual lives in a society or family where abuse or drug use is normal, the chances of the individual following the same path is very high. Studies have revealed that out of 200 serious juvenile offenders that were asked, over 90% of them had serious childhood trauma. 74% were physically or sexually abused and 30% suffered the disturbance of losing a significant person sometime during their life.
Criminals such as Robert Thomson, John Venables, Jesse Pomeroy, Cheryl Pierson and Peter Dinsdale (otherwise known as Bruce Lee), have suffered severe problems in terms of their family relations, whether it is through abuse or an immoral influential figure. So according to this, individuals have a much higher chance of leading a criminal life based off their childhood trauma and the way in which they were influenced. In this essay, the question of why people commit crime will be explored through the psychology and learning theory lens. The cases of John Venables, Jesse Pomeroy and Sergeant Robert Bulges will also be discussed. The Social Learning Theory suggests that learning occurs when an individual (the learner) observes the copier (the model). The learner’s criminal behavior is reinforced from the model and they learn beliefs that are favorable to crime.
The theorist argues that people are not born as a criminal. They learn to think and act violently as a result of their day to day experiences. These experiences can include observing the behaviors of friends, family, and media. There are four factors that can increase violence; a stressful event like a threat, challenge or assault that can heighten anger, aggressive skills or techniques learned through observing others, a belief that aggression or violence will be socially rewarded (for example, reducing frustration, enhancing self-esteem, providing material goods or earning the praise of other people) and finally, a value system that tolerates violent acts within certain social contexts. A child’s mind is undeveloped fully and is innocent. They learn from observing their surrounding environment, whether it is a good or bad thing since they do not have a sense of right and wrong. If an individual is surrounded by a bad environment, they have a higher chance of doing the same thing.
A significant influence on a child’s mind is their family. Family, in general, are groups of related individuals living under the same roof. As human beings, we learn learn everything from family first, because those are the people we spend the most time with. So family reflects of what we do, who we are and is also a reflection of how we are brought up. The family is divided in three groups; parents, siblings and relatives. If a child is brought up in an abusive environment, this will affect him negatively and the chances of him/her continuing this path will be much greater. The effects of sibling can also lead to criminal life. The elder siblings are the role models so an individual who has siblings that follow a criminal life will be a bad influence on the individual. For example, if that sibling is involved with the drug use or dealing with drugs, he would also teach his younger sibling to do the same. And if that sibling learns it and sees that is an easy way to obtain money, he would continue doing that in their future.
The media also plays a major role on a society. An individual who plays or watches a lot of violent video games and movies tend to do the same thing. There have been several tragedies due to the influence of games. The biggest example is the Columbine High School massacre by Klebold and Harris and is said that to have been hugely influenced by the video games. They essentially have criminal models that they associate with. As a consequence, these individuals come to view crime as something that is desirable. The psychology theory explains criminal behavior as a consequence of individual factors, such as negative early childhood experiences, and poor socialization which results in criminal thinking patterns.
Criminals and deviants are seen as suffering from personality deficiencies. Thus, crimes result from abnormal, dysfunctional, or inappropriate mental processes within the personality of the individual. These defective or abnormal mental processes could be caused from a variety of things, including a diseased mind, inappropriate learning, improper conditioning, and the absence of appropriate role models or the strong presence of inappropriate role models. Psychoanalytic theory, developed by Sigmund Freud, explores the idea of teen or adult behavior being impacted by early childhood experiences. For Freud, aggression was a basic human impulse, that is blocked in well-adjusted people who have experienced a normal childhood.
However, if the aggressive impulse is not controlled, or is repressed, it could leak out of the unconscious and a person can engage in random acts of violence. A child who has had a rough childhood has a hard time controlling their anger and when the anger is uncontrollable, it can lead them to follow a deviant behavior. Individuals who had a negative childhood, such as being picked on at school, having abusive parents, losing a significant other or being neglected can affect their mind (depression) and create feelings of anger or frustration. Researchers suggest that some serious violent offenders may have a serious personality defect commonly known as psychopathy. These psychopaths are not born as a psychopath. They become psychopath because of a number of early childhood factors. These factors include having an emotionally unstable parent, parental rejection, lack of love during childhood and inconsistent discipline.
Psychopaths are impulsive, have low levels of guilt and frequently violate the rights of others. It had been estimated that approximately 30 percent of all prison inmates in the United States are psychopaths. There are several cases in which an individual has divorced parents, which in some instances creates an unstable environment where he/she is moving from house to house. Not having a permanent home or a sense of belonging can negatively affect the individual, which could create anger or frustration. Through divorced parents it is theorized that the serious defenders come from “broken home”. For instance, in James Burgler case, both Robert Thompson and John Veneables originated from the families where the parents were divorced. Siblings also have an effect which is through the idea they can trigger neglect and attention seeking.
Families with large number of children often mean that siblings receive little individual attention from parents and that can affect an individual mind in a bad way. This can often lead to a child acting outside the law in a cry for attention from their families. The child may view getting into trouble with the police to be the only method of capturing individual consideration from their parents. Criminals Robert Thompson and John Vneables both came from large families, suggesting that their actions have been, in part, to seek attention. The boys were jealous of their siblings, as John’s brother and sister received extra attention from their mother and while Robert viewed his mother caring for her new baby in a way that he couldn’t remember being cared for. So the imbalance in a family can cause the child with less attention to become a criminal. Such a person with this kind of imbalance in their life along with abusive parents can start to have an urge to feel superior.
Because a child is sick and tired of being treated poorly, they commit crimes since (in their mind) it’s the only way that they can get attention. He will start attacking the victims that are weak in order to be in control and to feel in power. According to the psychology theory, an individual who has had a multitude of bad experience builds up the anger and eventually it bursts, causing a person to go insane. And that behavior will continue until the trauma that triggered it is fully addresses and overcome. Like a person with overdeveloped superegos feels guilt for no reason, and wishes to be punished in order to be relieve this guilt that are feeling. Committing crimes is a method of obtaining such desired punishment and relieving guilt.
According to psychology theory a deviant behavior can be explained by psychological trauma in one’s past. This is a psychological condition in which a traumatic incident in one’s past causes an individual to have abnormal reaction which can also be committing crime. PTD is usually invoked in cases of child abuse. The case of Jesse Pomeroy in the late 19th century is a prime example of abuse during childhood being a key criminogenic factor. Jesse was born in Boston, USA and from a very early age, he suffered abuse from his alcoholic father, elder brother and occasionally his mother.
When a child is consistently hurt in this way he naturally seeks revenge. Therefore in a desperate attempt to become the victimizer rather than the victim, he turned to victims that were unable to fight back, showing the traits of serial killer. By age 15, Jesse was guilty of two murders and 8 torture victims. In the case of Sergeant Robert Bales, an American soldier who served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was accused of getting drunk and going into a town in Afghanistan and murdering 16 Afghanis without provocation. Experts are already speculating that the psychological trauma of multiple deployments contributed to sergeant Bale’s alleged deviance.
Sometimes psychology and learning overlap each other. Sometimes learning is influenced by the psychological factors. For an example, individuals for the most part do not learn until they have motivation, which comes from experiences and situations in their lifetime. Parents who choose to be very strict with their child, therefore allowing only limited freedom, can cause the child to rebel against the authority of the parents, often in an extreme way and can go against all moral values. The child learns to go against the parents. And if the society doesn’t give an individual something that he deserves, it will create the feeling of frustration that they will learn to get what they desire in an illegal manner.
Psychology and Learning theory proves that a person is not born as criminal, they are made criminal. They are born neutral; they learn to become a criminal because of the society and environment they are surrounded by. There are always factors that converts innocent mind to a criminal mind. There are always motivations that make an individual learn how to act in a deviant behavior. Even if one’s parents are criminals or lead a wrong lifestyle, one isn’t born a criminal – it is a learned trait. Outside factors such as siblings and societal influences also contribute to criminal behavior.
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