Bowlby’s Psychoanalyst explanation of Crime

In 1951 John Bowlby proposed that if infants were deprived of their mothers (who he regarded as the attachment figure) whilst in the critical period of their first two years of life there were likely to be consequences that would develop later in life.  The symptoms included mental sub-normality, delinquency, depression, affectionless, psychopathy and even dwarfism.  

It was found that children raised in institutions during the first three years of life showed lower IQ, compared to a fostered control group.  When Bowlby studied 44 juvenile thieves he argued that the affectionless psychopathy was the result of maternal deprivation.  Michael Rutter reassessed Bowlby’s initial work and found his ideas about monotropy (only bonding with one person) and the time periods of attachment to be incorrect.  Rutter also felt that Bowlby did not take into consideration the difference between deprivation and privation as the effects where different.  In deprivation the tendency is likely to be depression and detachment rather than criminal traits.

1.b Hans J. Eysenck Extroversion and Introversion trait theory Dr. Eysenck believed that people fitted into 4 personality types’ extraversion, introversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism Neurotic/Unstable Individuals would be anxious, worrying, moody individuals that would often be depressed and suffer from lack of sleep and suffer many psychosomatic disorders.  They would be emotional, reacting strongly to all sorts of stimuli and find gaining balance in life difficult after each emotional experience.

Neurotic/Stable Individuals considered stable tend to respond to emotional situations slowly and not being exuberant.  These individuals tend to return to normality quickly and are usually calm, even tempered and controlled and tend to live an unworried life.

Introvert A typically introverted person would tend to be very low key and would prefer not to engage in social situations.  They are more likely to be found on their own, reading a book, writing, inventing.  There preference being alone.  Introverts are likely so have few friends and prefer one to one, if any social interaction.  The outlook of these individuals would be to plan head and not to act on impulse or excitement but with control and precise motion and action.  Introverts are likely to be serious and well ordered in all aspects of life.


The typical extrovert is gregarious, highly sociable, enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, loves to party and have lots of friends, they like people around them, crave excitement, take risks and chances and will think nothing of doing something outrageous on the spur of the moment, impulse would equal excitement.  Extroverts are not likely to enjoy reading and studying as this would require solitude which would be painful.  They may have a tendency to be quick tempered and aggressive unable to keep feelings under control.image01.png

Stable introverts (low N low E) are the easiest to condition. Stable extroverts (low N low E)  and Neurotic Introverts (high N low E) are less malleable but do not encounter great difficulty in social learning. Neurotic extroverts (high N high E) experience most difficultly in social learning (K. Williams 2004) Psychotism. Individuals in this category have tendencies to be aggressive, cold, impersonal, uncaring lacking empathy, cruel and solitary sensation seeking. (K. Williams 2004)

Case study 1 The railway rapists One theory for Duffy’s and Mulcahy’s crimes is the bulling they suffered at school.  However they both showed a sadistic streak for tormenting and torturing animals at the age of thirteen.  This could be because they were as helpless as the animals, and later their victims being helpless and them being in control. Duffy also inflicted physical abuse on his wife.  This was highlighted as likely behaviour when David Canter a profiler looked at the case.

As both men got older transferring their sadistic and misogynistic tendencies to women fuelling each other’s dark sexual fantasies and as the need for heightened excitement came so did the start of the murders.  To support this the FBI believe that children who have a history of animal cruelty use this as a rehearsal for targeting humans later in life as it’s believed that animals are symbolic of people.

Robert Ressler, FBI behavioural sciences unit said “These are the kids who never learned that it was wrong to poke a puppy’s eyes out” This would be supported by both Bowlby’s view of maternal deprivation and Freud’s view that children would be affected by their childhood experiences.  Both Psychoanalytic theories are difficult to prove criminality as they are based on the unconscious. In contrast Eysenck’s trait theories and the Big 5 look at characteristics that may highlight criminals, these would not help distinguish a rapist from a burglar (S. Jones 2006) but that of characteristics that give clues to criminal tendencies.

Case Study 2 The Moors Murders In Myra Hindley’s case the psychoanalysis approach would consider her to have an underdeveloped Ego and Super-ego therefore she would have no conscience so have no empathy or guilt for the victims.  Freud would consider her to be stuck/fixated in one of the psychosexual stages possibly the Electra complex since she was not living at the family home and therefore did have the opportunity to identify with her mother.  In Bowlby’s theory this would be the maternal deprivation of her natural mother therefore making her withdrawn and potentially developing anti-social behaviour and having low social skills.

Case Study 3 The Crash of Bearing Bank This is a totally different type of criminal showing very different traits to the above cases.  Nick Leeson he was; egocentric; charismatic; extrovert; hostile; aggressive; impulsive and a risk taker that required immediate gratification, similar to the baby in the I.D scenario.  However Eysenck also said this type of crime needs no explaining.

The Big Five Allport (1936) & Cattell (1957)

Gordon Allport devised a list of 4500 adjectives from comprehensives dictionaries which he considered to describe observable and relatively permanent traits.  Raymond Cattell worked some 21 years after and reduced this list to 171.  Cattell identified 35 major clusters of personality traits and added 10 more which he obtained from psychiatric literature.  Cattell then devised personality tests for these 45 traits and the results where analysed which led to the 16PF personality questionnaire. This work has been further researched by Tupes and Christal in 1961 and again by Goldberg in 1981.  Goldberg used his own set of adjectives from the dictionary and independently found the five factors once again.  These factors are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Openness to Experience, each factor consisting of more specific traits.