Psychology and crime

David Canter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


Psychologists have studied many aspects of crime and criminality ever since modern psychology began to emerge in the late 19th century. The founding fathers of psychology taught courses on criminal psychology and considered delinquency at the time they were laying their foundations. Just about every psychological theory has been applied to the consideration of crime or its prosecution, from Freudian psychodynamics to neuropsychology, by way of learning theories and studies of memory. These theories have covered the causes of crime, psychological aspects of criminal investigations, assessment of criminals, court psychology, interventions to reduce offending and help offenders cope with prison, and victimology and the nature of criminal activity, emphasizing behavioral variations between offenses that have the same legal definition. In the last forty years the study of psychological aspects of crime and criminals has also become part of the professional discipline of forensic psychology. Thus, any review of psychology and crime now overlaps with considerations of the professional roles of psychologists in a variety of legal, investigative, correctional, and therapeutic settings. The influence of the legal context and culture as well as the local institutional frameworks, therefore, always needs to be kept in mind when considering publications on psychology and crime. For example, access to offenders in prison for research purposes is currently extremely difficult in the United States but is much easier in developing countries. Consequently, a bias results in what is actually studied depending on where the studies take place. What is considered criminal and how crime is dealt with varies considerably from one jurisdiction to another. These variations carry implications for how readily findings can be generalized or acted on in practice beyond the context in which they were established. Furthermore, many of the considerations of the psychological aspects of crime take place under the umbrella of other disciplines, notably criminology but also socio-legal studies and even jurisprudence. Writings on psychology and crime, consequently, vary in the depth of their scholarship and the validity of their arguments. This qualitative range is further extended by the enormous popular interest in crime, both in fact and in fiction, producing a plethora of opinions on criminals that have little basis in systematic research or even, often, in objective evidence. The purpose of this bibliography is to capture the major psychological publications on crime. Because of the popular interest in this topic, it is of value to refer to some of the early foundations that still haunt public debate before moving on to the rapidly growing range of currently significant research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Bibliographies in Criminology
EditorsBeth Huebner
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


Dive into the research topics of 'Psychology and crime'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this