Criminal psychology

Criminal psychology, also referred to as criminological psychology, is the study of the views, thoughts, intentions, actions and reactions of criminals and suspects.[1][2] It is a subfield of criminology and applied psychology.

Criminal psychologists have many roles within legal courts, including being called upon as expert witnesses and performing psychological assessments. Some types of psychiatry also deal with aspects of criminal behavior. Several definitions are used for criminal behavior, including behavior punishable by public law, behavior considered immoral, behavior violating social norms or traditions, or acts causing severe psychological harm. Criminal behavior is often considered antisocial in nature.[3]


Criminal psychology started the late 18th century. There were four key aspects of the development of criminal psychology: philosophical, medical, legal and biological. Before criminal psychology, there was a conflict in criminal law between medical experts and court judges on determining how to proceed with a majority of cases which necessitated the development of a specialised field for individual investigations and assessments of suspects. It is generally accepted that criminal psychology was a predecessor to the broader field of criminology, which includes other fields such as criminal anthropology which studies more systemic aspects of crime as opposed to individual suspects and court cases.[4]


Criminal profiling, also known as offender profiling, is a form of criminal investigation, linking an offender's actions at the crime scene to their most likely characteristics. This is used in criminal psychology to help law enforcement investigators narrow down and prioritize a pool of suspects. Part of a sub-field of forensic psychology called investigative psychology, criminal profiling has advanced substantially in methodology and grown in popularity since its conception in the late 1800s.[5] However, there is a substantial lack of empirical research and effectiveness evaluations validating the practice of criminal profiling.[6][7][8]

Criminal profiling is a process now known in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as criminal investigative analysis. (see also: FBI method of profiling) Profilers, or criminal investigative analysts, are trained and experienced law enforcement officers who study every behavioral aspect and detail of an unsolved violent crime scene, in which a certain amount of psychopathology has been left at the scene. The characteristics of a good profiler are discussed. Five behavioral characteristics that can be gleaned from the crime scene are described:

  1. amount of planning that went into the crime,
  2. degree of control used by the offender,
  3. escalation of emotion at the scene,
  4. risk level of both the offender and victim, and
  5. appearance of the crime scene (disorganized versus organized).

The process of interpreting the behavior observed at a crime scene is briefly discussed.[9]

In a 2017 article by Pew research center, it was found that federal and state prisons in the United States held 475,900 inmates who were black and 436,500 who were white.[10] Similar historical data supports the substantially higher incarceration of black people.[11] This is in contrast with census data which has placed the percentage of black people or African American people at about 12% of the US population.[12] Negative ethnic stereotypes contribute to this disproportionate incarceration; it has served as a justification for the unofficial policies and practices of racial profiling by criminal justice practitioners.[13]

The cultural, environmental and traditional concepts of communities play a major role in individual psychology, providing profilers with a potential basis for behavioral patterns learned by offenders during their upbringing.[14] They also evaluate the safety of prisons for those incarcerated, as some individuals may be predisposed to recidivism if the prisoners' mental health is not or not adequately addressed. There are many individual factors contributing to developing a criminal profile that both meets legal requirements and treats profiled individuals humanely.


Criminal psychologists will often use their expertise of human behavior to consult with law enforcement personnel and others in the criminal justice system on various aspects of a case. they can help them ask appropriate questions during interrogation or give relevant information to help guide investigation.[15]

Career pathsEdit

A bachelor's degree in psychology or criminal justice as well as a master's degree in a related field are needed in order to pursue a career in criminal psychology. A doctorate, either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D, typically yields higher pay and more lucrative job opportunities. In addition to degrees, a licensing exam is required by state or jurisdiction.[16]

Criminal profilers require a master's degree or a doctorate, several years of experience and in some cases passing state examinations to become a licensed psychologist.[17]

Criminal profilers can work in various settings including offices and courtrooms and can be employed at a number of institutions. Some include local, state, or federal government, and others can be self-employed as independent consultants. As of 2021, the average amount of a criminal psychologist is $58,246 and can increase to $95,000. Several factors contribute to how much a person makes within the field, including how much time a person has worked within the field, and the city with which a person works in. Criminal psychologists who work within larger cities tend to make more than psychologists who work in lower populated cities. Those who work for hospitals or federal government tend to have a lower salary.[18] Some of the top paying states for forensic psychologists are New Hampshire, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, and California.[19]

Forensic psychology careers include:[19]

  1. Correctional counselor
  2. Jail supervisor[20]
  3. Victim advocate
  4. Jury consultant
  5. Forensic social worker
  6. Expert witness
  7. Forensic psychology professor
  8. Forensic psychology researcher
  9. Forensic case manager
  10. Criminal profiler
  11. Forensic psychologist
  12. Correctional psychologist

Comparison to forensicsEdit

The effect of psychosocial factors on brain functioning and behavior is a central part of analysis for both forensic and criminal psychologists, under the category of applied psychology. For forensic psychiatry, major areas of criminal evaluations include assessing the ability of an individual to stand trial, providing an opinion on what the mental state of the individual was at the time of offense, risk management for future offenses (recidivism), providing treatment to criminals including medication and psychotherapy, and being an expert witness. This process often involves psychological testing.[21] Forensic psychologists have largely similar roles to forensic psychiatrists, although are typically unable to prescribe medication.

Criminal and forensic psychologists may also consider the following factors:

  1. The current presence of mental disorders
  2. The level of accountability or responsibility an individual has for a crime due to mental disorders
  3. Likelihood of recidivism and involved risk factors
  4. Epidemiology of related mental disorders under consideration

Criminal psychology is also related to legal psychology and forensic psychology and crime investigations.

The question of competency to stand trial is a question of an offender's current state of mind. This assesses the offender's ability to understand the charges against them, the possible outcomes of being convicted/acquitted of these charges and their ability to assist their attorney with their defense. The question of sanity/insanity or criminal responsibility is an assessment of the offender's state of mind at the time of the crime. This refers to their ability to understand right from wrong and what is illegal. The insanity defense is rarely used, as it is very difficult to prove. If declared insane, an offender may be committed to a secure hospital facility, potentially for much longer than they would have served in prison.[21]

Key studiesEdit

A number of key studies of psychology especially relevant to understanding criminal psychology have been undertaken. These include:[22][23]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Richard N. Kocsis, Applied criminal psychology: a guide to forensic behavioral sciences, Charles C Thomas Publisher, 2009, pp.7
  2. ^ Andrews, D. A.; Bonta, James (2010). The Psychology of Criminal Conduct. Routledge. ISBN 9781437778984.
  3. ^ "Criminal Behavior". Criminal Psychology. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  4. ^ Vec, Milos (September 2007). "[The mind on the stage of justice: the formation of criminal psychology in the 19th century and its interdisciplinary research]". Berichte Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte. 30 (3): 235–254. doi:10.1002/bewi.200701101. ISSN 0170-6233. PMID 18173066.
  5. ^ "Criminal Profiling: The Original Mind Hunter | Psychology Today United Kingdom". Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  6. ^ Fox, Bryanna; Farrington, David P. (December 2018). "What have we learned from offender profiling? A systematic review and meta-analysis of 40 years of research". Psychological Bulletin. 144 (12): 1247–1274. doi:10.1037/bul0000170. ISSN 1939-1455.
  7. ^ Chifflet, Pascale (2015). "Questioning the validity of criminal profiling: an evidence-based approach". Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology. 48 (2): 238–255. doi:10.1177/0004865814530732. ISSN 0004-8658. S2CID 145585868.
  8. ^ Ribeiro, Rita Alexandra Brilha; Soeiro, Cristina Branca Bento de Matos (January 2021). "Analysing criminal profiling validity: Underlying problems and future directions". International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. 74: 101670. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2020.101670. ISSN 0160-2527.
  9. ^ O'Toole, Mary Ellen (2004). Pro-filers: Leading investigators take you inside the criminal mind. New York: Amherst, NY US: Prometheus Books. pp. 223–228. ISBN 978-1-59102-266-4.
  10. ^ Gramlich, John. "The gap between the number of blacks and whites in prison is shrinking". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 2022-05-07.
  11. ^ Western, Bruce; Wildeman, Christopher (January 2009). "The Black Family and Mass Incarceration". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 621 (1): 221–242. doi:10.1177/0002716208324850. ISSN 0002-7162.
  12. ^ Western, Bruce; Wildeman, Christopher (January 2009). "The Black Family and Mass Incarceration". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 621 (1): 221–242. doi:10.1177/0002716208324850. ISSN 0002-7162. S2CID 53870729.
  13. ^ Welch, Kelly (August 2007). "Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. 23 (3): 276–288. doi:10.1177/1043986207306870. ISSN 1043-9862. S2CID 146764775.
  14. ^ Helms, Janet E.; Piper, Ralph E. (April 1994). "Implications of Racial Identity Theory for Vocational Psychology". Journal of Vocational Behavior. 44 (2): 124–138. doi:10.1006/jvbe.1994.1009. ISSN 0001-8791.
  15. ^ Broudy, M. S. "What Is Criminal Psychology?". Online Psychology Degrees. Retrieved 2022-05-27.
  16. ^ "Criminal Psychology Careers |". 2017-09-15. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  17. ^ "How to Become a Criminal Profiler". Criminal Justice Programs. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  18. ^ "Criminal Psychologist Career: Job Duties, Skills & Education". Retrieved 2022-03-31.
  19. ^ a b "10 Top Career Paths in Forensic Psychology (2021 Update)". Psychology Degree Guide. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  20. ^ "12 Different Career Paths With a Forensic Psychology Master's Degree". Insight Digital Magazine. 2017-04-17. Retrieved 2022-02-17.
  21. ^ a b Turvey, Brent E. (2002). Criminal Profiling, 4th Edition An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis. California: Elseiver Science Ltd. ISBN 978-0127050416.
  22. ^ Francis Pakes, Suzanne Pakes - Criminal Psychology published by Routledge 6 Dec 2012, 184 pages, ISBN 1135846073, Routledge Studies in Development and Society [Retrieved 2015-09-20]
  23. ^ Gross, Richard (14 August 2015). Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. Hachette UK. ISBN 978-1471829758. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  • David Canter (2008) Criminal Psychology London: Hodder Education