The Psychology of the Criminal – Nature vs. Nurture is Back Again

At University I’m taking a course in criminology that focuses mainly on theories of crime (how we define crime and criminals for instance). In the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at how psychologists look at criminals, and it’s been interesting to hear a criminologist, and my peers’ points of view on psychology and its association with criminals.

Listening to conversations within the classroom, I can’t help but hear the following phrase too many times:

“People can be born bad”. I have to completely disagree.

This conversation all really started quite recently when a short documentary on TV aired about notorious killer Ivan Milat’s nephew Matthew Milat, who committied an extremely similar crime to that of his uncle. After the airing of the program, a survey was posted online asking the question “do you think people can be born bad?”. The overwhelming amount of responses that said that said “yes” was amazing. Personally I was quite astounded.

How can a criminal, or anyone for that matter, be born a certain way? I find it incredibly hard to believe that a person can be born a murderer…I honesty don’t believe it is possible. What about parental influences? What about peer influences? What about society in general shaping us as individuals?

And so the nature vs. nurture debate is back again. 

A long time ago, I stated in a speech I did in year 11 that “individuals are shaped by their nature (from birth) AND nurture (the way that society has shaped them)” and I still strongly stand by this statement.

Imagine however, if everyone believed that people can be “born bad”. What would society do? Lock up babies knowing that one day they might commit some dreadful crime?

Do not get me wrong here, I do believe that there is and can be some sort of ‘nature’ element to this argument.

No individual can be born (nature) a criminal. Perhaps they may have a predisposition to violence (or aggressiveness) because of their genetics, or have brain abnormalities that could lead to psychopathic traits/behaviours if activated or triggered (e.g. damage/abnormality in the amygdala). Environmental factors (nurture) like personal experience, may certainly influence criminal behaviour, such as abuse during childhood. On a less extreme scale, everything and anything that any one individual experiences in their lifetime will influence the way that they behave.

I do not believe that people can be ‘born bad’. I believe that people can have a predisposition to criminal-like behaviours, but whether or not these are acted upon depend entirely on the individual and the various environmental factors around them.

A criminal cannot be solely defined off of their nature, however possibly their nurture. In most cases, I believe that there is an interplay between both nature and nurture when it comes to anyone, especially criminals. 


Bionic Implant To Treat Schizophrenia?


No new research in 50 years regarding the treatment of schizophrenia? Think again! 

Browsing scientific articles (as you do in the holidays), I stumbled across the most curious article on treating mental illness in development through bionic implants into the brains frontal lobe. Professor Xu-Feng Huang, a researcher at the University of Wollongong, has taken on the challenge, and specifically deals with the illness of schizophrenia. 

Schizophrenia is a mental condition that is caused by structural anomalies in the brain that stop the neurons communicating and functioning normally. Other factors, such as environment and genetics, also play a role in the “creation” of this abnormality whilst the brain is developing. Typical symptoms of schizophrenia include hearing voices and hallucinating. It occurs in around 1% of the worldwide population. 

Huang’s big idea is to construct a device made out of organic polymers that will successfully stimulate muscle and nerve tissue through the use of electrodes. This will regulate the stimulation of neurons to alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia and other mental disorders. With the use of 3D printing technology, proteins can be embedded into the device to allow for healthy cell development in the “biologically active” plastic device. Pretty amazing hey?

What’s making this idea so popular however is the cheap cost and the decrease in side effects that you’d usually see when using antipsychotic medications. A lot of these medications generally have some pretty serious side effects that come along with them, such as loss of white blood cells, tremors, rapid heart rate, dizziness and blurred vision. In positive light of the implant, it’ll treat the root of the problem. 

Although this all sounds like a good idea, testing hasn’t even started yet. It’s all well and good to say it sounds like a great idea, but there’s so many other factors to consider. Even if it does prove to be scientifically successful…there’s mountains to test and even consider before releasing it freely for human use. Like most things in science, these things take time. 

Perhaps this is a new beginning in treating mental illness. 


Is Your Child Likely To Be A Psychopath?


The detection and possible determination of potential psychopathy in children is a controversial subject that has only recently come to rise in the modern day. Biological abnormalities, parental influences, genetic inheritance and past events that could contribute to anti-social behaviour, are a few of the many ideas and theories that surround detecting psychopathy in children. 

Scientific studies have shown significant differences in brains of psychopaths. Through multiple brain scans (MRI and FMRI), it has been suggested that psychopathy originates in abnormalities in the amygdala in the brains limbic system. Considering the amygdala is in control of fear and aggression, it is no surprise that psychopaths are extremely violent and show no remorse or sorrow for their actions. This abnormality can be obtained through genetic inheritance from parents, mutation in genes and internal damage. This biological study could be the root of psychopathy. 

As found by Neo-Freudian Alfred Adler, parental influence has a clear impact on that of the child and in particular their personality. It is possible, as Adler suggested, that children that are particularly neglected or abused are more likely to participate in anti-social, violent behaviours. This is executed in a documentary called “Child of Rage: A Story Of Abuse” about a girl named Beth Thomas, who was sexually abused by her biological father as a child and consequently suffered from reactive attachment disorder. Growing up in a foster home, Beth portrayed extremely psychopathic behaviours, such as killing birds, attempting to kill her brother, and short but large bursts of rage. It is possible that this early event contributed to Beth’s psychopathic behaviours as a young child. However, despite her psychopathic traits, Beth received intensive treatment and now works as a paediatric nurse whilst also giving talks on her childhood trauma. 

Sibling rivalry is also a major contributor, and possible reason for psychopathy. This is particularly seen in that of first born children who feels a lack of attention after the second child is born (this can be related to that of Adler’s birth order theory). It is natural to be concerned about a change in the first borns behaviour when having a second child. There will of course be a decrease in attention, which may cause the child to act out in typically psychopathic manners to receive this attention. This could result in psychopathic behaviours, however can be easily taken into hand in advance, educating and informing the child on the new coming brother or sister. It is important to assure that child that nothing will change, and that equal amounts of attention will be distributed, as well as special parent-child time allocated.

It is no doubt that psychopathic tendencies can even arise in childhood, and many parents are often in despair about how to handle their “problem child”. It is important to address the issue immediately and professionally, often through the use of therapy and allowing the child to speak out about how they feel.   

There are many factors that contribute to the development of psychopathy, particularly from that of a young age. It is incredibly important to recognise, and to consider that despite factors present, it does not set in stone that the child will become a psychopath. Psychopathy is often triggered. No one is born a psychopath. You may be born with psychopathic traits or brain abnormalities that can lead to psychopathy, but may only occur if triggered by such an event as abuse, or some sort of significant traumatic event. 

Is It Possible To Determine Whether A Child Is Likely To Grow Up To Be A Psychopath? Part 2

April 9th 2014 – Annotated Bibliography Part 2

Kahn J 2012, Can You Call A 9-Year-Old A Psychopath?, viewed 9/4/14 <> 

Kahn examines the case study of problem child Michael, who has exhibited strange psychopathic behaviours since the age of three, detailing the the parents’s struggle. The article examines the child in detail whilst providing background information on possible psychiatry treatments and therapy. Kahn considers a large range of views, from internal (neurological defects) to external (sibling influences) possibilities. 

Despite Kahn informing the reader explicitly, the article is biased due to Kahn’s authorial presence in the text, regarding her own views on Michael. Kahn is nor a psychologist or scientist, and therefore is not qualified to make claims and presumptions about the case. The text is long due to unnecessary information included and becomes clunky to read. 

The article considers inheritance of psychopathy and transmission through genes, which most other sources do not. Despite the clear bias present in the text, Kahn gives a variety of views and possible theories, overall making the text informative. 

Condliffe J 2012, Can Children Ever Be Diagnosed As Psychopaths?, viewed 9/4/14 <> 

Condliffe provides a concise text on identifying psychopathic traits, testing for psychopathy and the controversy around the topic of psychopathic children. The text examines particular psychologists and scientists who argue both sides of the argument: whether psychopathy can or cannot be examined through the brain, and if so, can it be detected in children of a young age. 

Despite the text being written in an understandable colloquial language, the text is not explicit, lacking key information. This affects the readers knowledge of the subject. 

The text considers the different arguments of whether psychopathy does or does not exist, and if it is possible to be detected by that of science. The text however does not consider in detail children and psychopathy, possible therapies/treatments or social and cultural/parental influences. Overall the text lacks in information, allowing for the reader not properly being informed. 

Is It Possible To Determine Whether A Child Is Likely To Grow Up To Be A Psychopath? Part 1

April 7th 2014 – Part 1 Of Annotated Bibliography 2013, Is Your Child A Budding Psychopath? Now There’s A Way To Find Out, viewed 7/4/14 <> 

“Is Your Child A Budding Psychopath? Now There’s A Way To Find Out” is a compelling article that assesses biological studies of young male brains in relation to psychopathic traits. The article considers the differences in boys’ brain activity when being exposed to stimulus (images), that do and do not present pain. 

Despite the article being written in an informal colloquial language, it explores the study taken with clear explanations without bias. The article is short and concise, allowing the reader to be informed appropriately without confusion. 

It should be noted that the study present in the article is only based around that of boys, and does not consider girls, therefore not assessing gender differences. The information provided is recent being written in 2013, therefore allowing for a fresh perspective on the topic. 

Dolan M 2014, Psychopathic Personality in Young People, viewed 7/4/14 <> 

The text “Psychopathic Personality in Young People” considers a large variety of aspects and views on this controversial topic. Dolan considers biological factors (the brain and its activity), emotional traits (in relation to personality), parental influences and different ways of assessing and measuring psychopathy in young people. 

Dolan informs the reader in a clear and precise manner that is organised and easy to read. Dolan takes a variety of approaches to the question and explores them in detail remaining absent from the text, allowing for no detectable bias. The text however is at time convoluted when discussing more complex approaches and becomes un-succinct. 

Despite the informative text, there is a lack of justification in terms of relating the ideas to performed psychological experiments, which questions the reliability of the claims made. The text is recent, and allows for a modern perspective on the topic. 

Introverts Should Not Be Undermined


Susan Cain’s positive TED talk on introversion was utterly inspiring and thought provoking. I was never one of those people who judged people by their introvert or extrovert traits, but I’m incredibly happy that she made being an introvert such a positive thing. Personally, I’m not quite sure if I’m an extrovert or an introvert, however I’m probably more leaning towards the introvert side. Typically, I’m not a loud, outspoken and outgoing person (which are “typical” extrovert traits). When I was younger I got the phrases “Why do you never talk?” and “Why are you so quiet?”. At the time this bothered me a lot, however now I realise that it’s okay to be a little quiet and a little different. So…I guess solitude is bliss. 

I think Susan is absolutely right in the way that we need introverts! I do indeed think that they have amazing ideas that are planted and are ready to sprout however are never always recognised. I see this a lot in the classroom at school. Even though a lot of introverts don’t like speaking in public, or raising their hand in class, there should be other ways of being able to share their opinion. Perhaps through writing…like this blog! (Well done to my brilliant psychology teacher for creating this anonymous blogging idea). 

STOP FORCING THE GROUP WORK. This is undeniably true. I think we’ve all felt that time when we get paired up with people we don’t know and just don’t want to say anything for the fear of being judged (which I know is typically “shy” as Susan mentioned, however still sort of applies) and just generally wanting to work by oneself. Group work should not always be mandatory but should more or less be optional, especially in classroom based settings. 

I think sometimes, and this isn’t all the time, that extroverts take the micky out of introverts. They immediately go to label us as “quiet” and “weird” when I think some of the best people are introverts. I’ve met a lot of typically introverted people in my time, and they have come to be some of my bestest friends. Never judge a book by its cover. 


Massive thanks to the wondrous Susan Cain herself who has viewed my post! You can find her on twitter at: