Psychological Theories of Offending

Psychological theories explain the trajectory of offending or offending curve by providing the cognitive reasons for the onset and escalation of offending in adolescence and the decline in early adulthood. This constitutes a perspective of understanding offending. Psychological Theories on the Onset and Peak of Offending During Adolescence Psychological theories focus on the conditioning process that individuals go through in their growing up years that influence their offending. There are two specific theories exploring conditioning as an explanation.

The psychoanalytic theory developed from the components of personality, the id, ego and superego, propounded by Freud. The id pursues immediate gratification while the superego operates as conscience to prevent the undue pursuit of gratification. The dynamics of the id and superego determines offending since an undeveloped or weak superego would likely cause a person to pursue immediate gratification with little concern of the consequences. (Champion, 2004) Actions such as shoplifting, vandalism, and substance abuse are examples of the pursuit of immediate gratification.

These components of the personality develop during childhood with the resulting personality becoming stronger during early adolescence. The onset of crime is during adolescence because it is at this stage that an individual start to establish and commence assertion of the personality developed from childhood. In late adolescence, individuals more strongly establish and actively assert a personality with a weak superego leading to the likelihood of engaging in more immediate gratification that translates into acts comprising juvenile delinquency or crime.

Reasons for the weak development of the superego are various traumatic situations experienced in childhood (Champion, 2004) such as direct or indirect experience of crime especially violence (Kokko, 2006), psychological problems existing in childhood, and other factors that could disrupt the development of a strong superego to balance the id. The psychological aspect of the social learning theory also explains the onset of offending in early adolescence and its peak in late adolescence.

The cognitive processing of acceptance and conformity to norms of practice depends on conditioning in childhood (Champion, 2004). A positive childhood environment with role models complying with norms would likely condition a child to accept and follow norms. A negative childhood environment where violation of norms is commonplace would likely condition a child not to take norms seriously. Conditioning through exposure to rampant violation of social norms and laws supports the exhibition of neglect of norms and laws in adolescence.

Offending escalates in late adolescence because during this time adolescents have developed their perspectives and attitudes towards the law and actions in violation of the law. They also have greater freedom to decide their actions because of the decline in authority over them or the existence of more opportunities for offending. Psychological Theories Explaining Decline in Offending in Early Adulthood Psychological theories explain the decline in offending in early adulthood through the life course or process of maturation and development.

As adolescents move to adulthood, the normal process of ageing and maturation sets in, to cause changes in behaviour. Age and maturity theory explains desistance of offending in early adulthood through the physical and mental shifts experienced by adolescents in the natural aging process. Physical changes could include height and weight changes, muscle building, enlargement of the brain, and other physical changes constituting the signals of adulthood (Piquero, Farrington, & Blumstein, 2003). Adolescents could respond to these signals consciously or unconsciously resulting to a change in behaviour from offending to desistance.

Mental changes could encompass shifts in perspective of the law and crime based on the weighing of experiences with crime and the law, acquisition of greater responsibility that comes with adulthood, and similar mental developments that causes movement away from offending. The natural process of aging causes physical and mental changes expressed through maturation that changes personality, attitudes and behaviour. Maturity causes a shift in offending behaviour by combining physical and mental changes to support intellectual and emotional stability (Piquero et al.

, 2003) necessary in convincing individuals in their early adulthood that offending is not the path to the achievement of satisfaction. Intellectual and emotional stability also provides young adults with greater self-control and temperament (Day et al. , 2007). These enables individuals in the early stages of adulthood to handle the requirements and restrictions involved in living as part of organised society. A development in this perspective is the differentiation between crime and criminality.

Crime refers to the actions that violate law while criminality refers to the varying propensity of individuals to engage in crime. Crime declines with age but criminality does not necessarily desist with age because this depends on maturity and other factors. (Nagin & Tremblay, 2005) This has two implications. One is the link between age and the reduction in crime so that early adulthood means a decrease in crime. The other is the existence of other factors that explain declines in criminality, which points to the weakness of this psychological theory in explaining the reduction of criminality.

Development theory also provides an explanation of the decline in offending in early adulthood. This overlaps with the age and maturity theory by focusing on age, specifically the various contingencies, both objective and subjective, which occurs with age (Piquero et al. , 2003; Nagin & Tremblay, 2005). One contingency is identity change occurring during early adulthood (Day et al. , 2007) that could lead to the desistance from crime. This finds exemplification in the 17-20 age range as the period when natural recovery occurs (Piquero et al. , 2003).

Desistance from crime is a behaviour that constitutes an outcome of natural recovery. Desistance resulting from natural recovery is similar to the outcomes of other periods of natural recovery such as the change in behaviour of young children when they go to school (Kokko, 2006). Desistance occurs through the process of identity deconstruction (Piquero et al. , 2003) when the physical and mental changes causing shifts in the identity of individuals that result in the voluntary non-commission of crimes. Another contingency is psychological drive, stimulation and maturation.

The cyclical peak and decline in this contingency explains the peak of crime in late adolescence and the decline in early adulthood. (Champion, 2004) The peak of psychological drive, the need for psychological stimulation, and unstable maturation explains the peak of offending in late adolescence. In early adulthood, individuals experience a decline in psychological drive after having experienced the psychological stimulation of crime. Maturation also sets in resulting to desistance from offending. Still another contingency is snares and reinforcements.

Snares refer to the negative consequences of committing crime such as jail time and other punishments as well as injuries obtained from the commission of crime. In adolescence, individuals are keen to explore and escalate criminal actions and consequences with the reinforcement of the benefits they expect to experience based on the benefits to adolescents persisting in crime in adulthood. There is maturity gap. Eventually, the experience of snares contributing to maturity causes the shift in behaviour resulting in de-escalation of crime.

(Piquero et al. , 2003; Day et al. , 2007) The concept economic maturity is also another positive reinforcement towards resistance. This refers to the achievement of economic stability of young adults because of opportunities for employment and the psychological drive towards economic independence (Haynie, Weiss, & Piquero, 2008). Together with the negative reinforcements from escalated crime in late adolescents, young adults come to prefer legitimate means of obtaining income. Conclusion Psychological theories provide one perspective on offending.

The weak development of the superego relative to the id as well as conditioning over compliance with norms and laws in childhood that reflect in the attitudes and behaviour in adolescence explains the onset of offending in adolescence. Age, maturity and accompanying contingencies that cause or encourage a change in behaviour explain the peak of offending in late adolescence and decline in early adulthood. References Champion, D. J. (2004). The juvenile justice system: Delinquency, processing, and the law (4th ed. ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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