Trait Theory in Criminology

Trait Theory in Criminology

Trait Theory in Criminology

Trait Theory in Criminology studies how different traits can predispose criminal behaviour, i.e. people commit crimes because of certain personality traits.

Traits are aspects of human personality or conduct that have the potential for both positive and negative value to the individual and society. This theory is applied to the investigation of a crime. It uses a person’s characteristics as a justification for committing a crime.

This blog post will explain what Trait Theory in Criminology is and highlights the traits perspectives , view of different theorists on trait theory and the critiques of the trait theory. As you read along, remember that our qualified writers are always ready to help in any of your assignments. All you need to do is place an order with us!

Usually, criminologists look at personality traits like psychosis or neuroticism or danger seeking behaviours. But in theory, any personality trait may be the cause of criminal behaviour. The point is that there is something that is a stable part of the personality that predisposes a person to become a criminal.

Development of trait Theory

Crime is a function of internal forces such as chemical, neurological, genetic, personality, intelligence, or mental traits. Focus on individuals and give many reasons for crime. The view that criminals have physical or mental traits (born criminals) that make them different originated with the Italian physician and criminologist Cesare Lombroso. In the early 1970s, spurred by the publication of “Sociobiology”, the new synthesis by Edmund O. Wilson, biological explanation of crime once again emerged. Today, trait theories recognise crime-producing interactions involving personal traits and environmental factors.

Categorisations of Traits by different Philosophers

Gordon Allport, Raymond Cattell, Hans Eysenck, and the “Big Five” model are the most popular theories for categorising traits. Let’s take a quick overview of these models and how they apply to criminology.

Gordon Allport View

Gordon Allport identified over 4000 personality traits in the dictionary, so he divided these into three categories; Cardinal, Central and Secondary. The term “cardinal traits” refers to characteristics that encompass the entirety of a person. A narcissist, for example. Words like “kind,” “funny,” and “loud” are used to characterise fundamental attributes. Secondary characteristics are those that apply to a person only in specific circumstances. For example, if you experience “road rage” and become violent in traffic. This can play a big role in criminal profiling. Because he is always self-centred, a serial killer may have a cardinal trait of narcissism, which you can’t change. While these features cannot define him, they can describe him. He may have central traits such as a lack of empathy or the capacity to manipulate. Finally, he’ll have a secondary charm or intimidation traits, which he might utilise to his advantage in specific settings to manipulate others.

Raymond Cattell’s View

Raymond Cattell’s theory of traits recognises Allport’s 4,000 features but only uses roughly 1,700 of them. He claims that unusual characteristics should not be employed. He then categorises these characteristics into 16 groups: liveliness, dominance, and perfectionism. He created and published a questionnaire based on these characteristics in 1949, and it is still widely used to judge personalities today. By removing many of the unnecessary features that may overlap and using a survey that can be simply calculated and catalogued, this theory reduces the subjectivity in identifying personality.

Big Five model

This is a combination of Cattell’s and Eysenck’s ideas. The five major personality traits described are extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Many theorists argue that these Big Five encompass all other characteristics. According to previous formulations of trait theory, individual traits are the only characteristics that determine a person’s personality. More recent forms of trait theory, on the other hand, take into account a variety of other elements.

Individual Trait Theory is frequently linked to a person’s intelligence quotient, not just because trait theorists focus on a person’s qualities. The relationship between learning, intelligence, personality, and how this influence criminality is the subject of this section of trait theory. According to theory, people with lower IQs are more likely to commit crimes. Many scientists believe that environmental variables, rather than genetics, play a larger role in intelligence. Since eighty years isn’t enough time for an entire population’s genetics to alter that radically, studies have revealed that IQ has gradually grown over the past four generations, implying a change in the environment rather than a change in the gene pool. Children with genetic advantages are also more likely to have intellectual parents who support academic success.

Trait theory perspectives

Psychodynamic Perspective

According to the psychodynamic perspective, criminal behaviour is founded in a person’s unconscious. Early childhood experiences such as too much parental control (overprotective), lack of maternal attachment, harsh physical punishment, or paternal affection help develop traits like violence and antagonism.

The psychodynamic viewpoint has been chastised for being untestable and unprovable.

Type A Theory

The Type A theory is significantly more focused, attempting to explain criminal behaviour and predicting the outcome. Henry T. Moore proposed this notion, which Lloyd Ohlin expanded on afterwards. It has the following components:

  • A personality trait or inclination to antagonism is the Type A behaviour pattern.
  • What role models (those with Type A behaviour) say and do encourage criminal/aggressive behaviour in others is referred to as social learning of aggression. This idea has been chastised for not being empirically tested and excessively emphasising the person.

Social Learning Theory

Individuals can learn and copy illegal behaviour from their environments, such as friends, family, or role models.

Opponents of social learning theory argue that empirical testing is impossible. There are also concerns about the capacity to extrapolate findings from studies involving lab animals or lab settings to other situations.

Personality Traits

A personality trait is defined as a “generally constant and durable internal human characteristic, consisting of the tendency to respond in certain ways across situations.”

Personality traits are a prominent issue in psychology, with several sub-disciplines branching off of it.

Perspectives of Personality Traits

The psychoanalytic perspective

It focuses on how early childhood events shape one’s personality. According to this viewpoint, personality is created when an individual must deal with internal or external problems.

According to the psychoanalytic viewpoint, traits are established through the resolution of early childhood conflict. Internal predispositions are formed due to these conflicts, and they determine how an individual responds to a circumstance.

According to psychoanalytic theory, children are confronted with conflict, creating defence mechanisms to defend themselves. These protective mechanisms help establish personality traits that will become prevalent later in life.

The following are the five main defensive mechanisms:

  1. Denial is the refusal to admit or accept a painful reality or fact and the disregarding of the circumstance.
  2. Defence mechanism- is an emotional or mental protection that works by misrepresenting reality to relieve worry.
  3. Repression – is the involuntary forgetting of unpleasant memories or impulses.
  4. Projection- allowing one’s unacceptable attributes to be attributed to someone else
  5. Displacement – is the transfer of one’s feelings onto another person.

The behavioural perspective

This viewpoint focuses on how personality develops through time due to reinforcement and stimulus.

According to the behavioural perspective, personality is established throughout life through reinforcement and stimulation rather than early childhood experiences.

According to this hypothesis, each answer is reinforced or punished, resulting in personality development.

“I’d rather have a young man who was a good athlete and not too brilliant than one who was intelligent but didn’t have staying strength,” stated behaviourist John B. Watson.

The humanistic perspective

This viewpoint emphasises how personality is formed due to personal events and decisions made throughout life.

According to the humanistic viewpoint, personality develops due to life experiences and decisions.

In contrast to childhood experiences, this viewpoint emphasises an individual’s ambitions and aspirations.

According to this view, a person’s personality is formed through their projects. These initiatives are developed by imagining the objectives they want to reach and the personal standards they wish to meet.

This perspective’s three basic assumptions are as follows:

The self is a conscious entity that can be known.

There are numerous routes to self-actualisation and development.

Personality is shaped by an individual’s objectives and aspirations rather than early childhood events.

Trait theories of crime

The trait theories are divided into two;

  • Biological theories
  • Psychology theories

Biological theories of crime

The theory focuses on human biological conditions that control human behaviour.

This theory focuses on biochemical behaviour factors that are believed to affect how proper behaviour patterns are learned, the relationship between brain function and crime, the association between genetic factors and crime, and the evolutionary view of crime causation.

Biochemical Conditions and Crime

Some biochemical conditions (genetically predetermine and acquired through diet and environment) influence antisocial behaviour. Biochemical makeup and antisocial behaviour are indirect: chemical and mineral imbalancement leads to perceptual and intellectual defects and problems, eventually generating antisocial behaviour. Researchers discover that blood mercury levels of children diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder significantly higher than other populations, indicating a clear association between environmental pollutants and behaviour disorder.

  • Diet

Improper diet can cause chemical and mineral imbalance and lead to cognitive and learning deficits and problems. Research shows that undersupply of chemicals (sodium, mercury, potassium, calcium, amino acid, and iron) can lead to depression, hyperactivity, cognitive problems, memory loss or abnormal sexual activity. People whose diets lack polyunsaturated fats, minerals, vitamins and too much-saturated fats seem to be at higher risk of developing psychological disturbance, such as schizophrenia, that is directly related to antisocial behaviour. Kids with a faulty diet tend to be starved for attention, leading to school failure.

  • Hypoglycemia

A condition that occurs when glucose (sugar) in the blood falls below levels necessary to normal and efficient brain functioning. Symptoms include irritability, anxiety, depression, crying spells, headaches, and confusion. Hypoglycemia, antisocial behaviour, and violent outbursts.

  • Hormonal influence
  • Androgen: These male sex hormones which can cause aggressive behaviour, sensation seeking, impulsivity, dominance, and reduced verbal skills are androgen-related male traits. The hormonal change is also related to mood and behaviour. Adolescence experience more intense mood swings, anxiety, and restlessness than their elders, explaining in part the high violence rates found among teenage males.
  • Testosterone: A high testosterone level is directly related to aggression in both males and females.
  • Environmental containment

Prenatal exposure to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) to lower IQs and attention problems. Both considered risk factors for serious behavioural and learning problems. Air pollution creates cognitive deficits and changes the brain structure of healthy children’s, that associated with school failure, educational underachievement and adult criminality.

Neurophysiological Conditions and Crime

These are conditions inherited or acquired neurological and physical abnormalities that control behaviour throughout life. Both violent and criminals and substance abusers have impairment in the prefrontal lobes, thalamus, medial temporal lob, superior parietal, and left angular gyrus area of the brain. There is a suspected link between brain dysfunction and conduct disorder (a pattern of repetitive behaviour in which the right of other or social norms are violated. e.g. lack of attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity are examples of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Genetics and Crime

These are conditions that are related to a person’s genes on their likelihood of becoming a criminal.

  • Parental deviance

Antisocial behaviour is inherited. The genetic makeup of parents is passed on to children. Genetic abnormality is linked to a variety of antisocial behaviour. Several studies found that parental criminality and deviance do, in fact, powerfully influence delinquent behaviour.

  • Adoption Studies

Several studies indicate that the relationship between the behaviour of biological parent and their children remain even if they are not in contact; when both biological and adoptive father are criminal, the children will engage in criminal behaviour.

  • Twin behaviour

Studies conducted on twin behaviour have detected a significant relationship between the criminal activities of MZ (identical) and a much lower association between those of DZ (fraternal) twins. MZ twin has a higher risk of suicidal behaviour than DZ twins. The score of MZ twins is more similar than DZ twins on tests measuring psychological dysfunctions such as conduct disorders, impulsivity and antisocial behaviour. MZ twins are closer than DZ twins in such crime measures as a level of aggression and antisocial behaviour. Both members of MZ twin pairs who suffer child abuse are likely to engage in later antisocial activity more often than DZ pairs.

Evolutionary View of Crime

The competition of scarce resources has influenced and shaped the human species. Behaviour patterns are inherited, impulsive behaviour become intergenerational, passed down from parents to children. Evolutionary concepts linked to gender differences in violence rate are based loosely on mammalian mating patterns. To ensure the survival of the gene pool, it is beneficial for a male to mate with any female as possible to bear his offspring. Over the history of human beings, aggressive males have had the greatest impact on the gene pool.

Critiques of the Trait Theory

Trait theory’s detractors argue that there isn’t enough empirical evidence to back it up. It is based on the use of broad, relative phrases to characterise people’s personalities.

Trait theorists also look at a person’s characteristics in general rather than in a specific context. In one scenario, such as bungee jumping, a person may act with little self-preservation or self-control, while in another, such as an unlawful position, they may not feel the same need for adrenaline.

 Furthermore, theorists are less concerned with the evolution of one’s personality, presuming, for the most part, that people do not change. We all know it isn’t true; people change all the time. Many of the objections originate from the application of trait theory to determine a person’s leadership ability.

Many qualities are not present in all of the studies on traits. Because there are so many personality traits, it’s tough to specify what makes someone a leader or, conversely, a criminal.

The hypothesis also ignores how important a feature is in making someone a criminal.


Trait theory is a phrase used in personality psychology to describe how people see themselves and others. Introverted or extroverted, agreeable or disagreeable, conscientious or indolent, emotionally stable or unstable, and open-minded are the five criteria used to categorize people.

This type of research aids in the comprehension of how personality factors influence behavior and interactions. It also aids in the analysis of criminal behavior from several angles.