Some Mechanisms Encouraging Criminal Behaviour

Manifestation of different forms of violence in contemporary society is a popular sociological and psychological problem. Without pretences to fulfil the topic, this article makes an effort to provide an explanation for aggressive behaviour and how it influences over violence. Sometimes is likely we, making attempts to defend ourselves, can turn from a victim is into an aggressor and even a criminal.In support of this statement I am presenting a criminal case from the reality and also focus the readers’ attention to factors encouraging and accelerating criminal acts.

Key words: aggression – instrumental and emotional,violence, victim, deviant behavior.

In this article I’m considering some main exogenous and endogenous factors in people that could transform us into criminals. By virtue article.9 paragraph.1, Criminal code (published in the State Gazette №.92/2002): “A crime is such a dangerous for the society act (action or inaction) that is committed guiltily and is announced to be punishable by the law“. In usual situations, a person acts legally, as a result of the absorbed social norms.They don’t like conflicts; they try to avoid them, because the experience is connected with some destructive feelings like anger, fury, spite, envy and others. If we look back in the past, we see that these manifestations have existed for centuries now. Nowadays, nevertheless, under the conditions of the fast and dynamic society, cultural and political changes, it is often necessary for a person to follow a part of the already drawn schemes, habits and usual behavior in a time of indefinite confusing factors, stress and anxiety.As a result from this, these days we become eyewitneses of increasing violence in all its forms: from instrumental (to achieve a certain goal) to emotional (violence for its own sake). At the same time the lower age rate decreases. There are different theories, which try to explain the dynamics of this behaviour, which is usual defined as focused aggression from one person towards another one. It is interesting to note that the observations done so far point out that the human being is the only creature in nature, which is inclined to develope aggression towards other people, without deprivation of his vital needs: even with the single purpose of inflicting some injury. Some of the main theories, which explain people’s aggressive behaviour are the following:

Theory of the chromosomes– according to people who support it in the chromosome structure of those who commit crimes there can be found the so called chromosome anomalies. I.e. the existence of one Y-chromosome above the normal leads to increasing the concentration of testosterone in the physiological balance of the person. This makes him more easily excited and weakens his inhibitions and respectively the inclination to behaviour different from the socially accepted one gets higher. Those who disagree with this view claim that the chromosome anomalies are premises for the emergence of psychological anomalies, but are not so important by themselves for the realization or no of criminal manifestations. [3 The next person who tries to pass roads for a similar predetermination of the illegal manifestations of the personality is the Italian psychiatrist: Chezare Lombrozo. According to his:

Anthropometric theory, the man committing crimes is characterized with specific physical proportions between the separate parts of his body- limbs, organs, form of the skull and others. [4] His beliefs are described in his book” The man who commits crimes”, where he dwells on the results of his investigations on prisoners- doers of severe crimes, which support his theory very well. Some time later the Frenchman Alfons Bertalion works on and comes with certain regulations (norms), which can help to predict whether a person is or is going to commit a crime some day or not. This theory just like the chromosome one faces many opponents, who support the contrary thesis- in this way the influence of the socium in a direction of affecting the possibility of committing an illegal act is not taken into consideration.

Psychoanalytical theory for aggression. [6] It is based by the imminent Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who accepts that a man is “programmed” from his birth to be aggressive. At the beginning he defines it as a behavioral reaction of the individual when he encounters a certain overwhelming border along his way to reaching the goal which brings him pleasure. Aggression arises as a result of the subjectively felt frustration and is directed to destructing the obstacle. Later Freud formulates the problem on the instinct level, that is – the interaction between the two unconscious instincts: Libido (erotic, pleasure seeking) and Thanatos (destruction and death). This is expressed in the human behaviour itself. Moreover, the stronger the instinct is, the more direct and powerfully aggression becomes. The dynamics of the so presented theory functions alike a hydraulic pump, i.e. aggression which is gradually stored should be released in some way, otherwise it goes to inner self, under the form of autoaggression, which sometimes leads to suicide. Aggressive behavior hardly depends on the existence of a respective stimulus of the background. If it is not present and the aggressive energy is strong enough, the role of a trigger can be played by a totally neutral object.

Theory of affects and strong emotions. Melanie Klein similarly to Freud sticks to the idea that destructive instincts and hatred, which interact with love are present from the very beginning of life and it starts with ambivalence.

Аnxiety in the earlier stage is actually fear from the punishment of the evil chasing object – a product of the child’s projection , of his own aggressive and destructive instincts. She аaccepts that the good inside objects build and include in themselves the core, the “nucleus” of the Ego and Superego, whereas the evil subjects which comprise the externalized products of child’s anxieties become chasers and activate defenses. On this stage the personality splits so that it can protect the weak , still not strong enough “Ego” from the unbearable influence which the unbelievable anxiety exerts upon it, a product of the child’s projection of own aggressive and destructive instincts. Anxiety on its own increases the sadistic impulses. In that way it pushes the child towards destruction of hostile objects in order to escape from their assaults. [4]

Alongside with the important role given to the aggression Klein formulates earlier child’s sadistic fantasies as a part of the normal development. She emphasizes on the normal child’s numerous oral, anal and Oedipus sadistic fantasies. All of them not in e lesser degree from the traumatic experiences create “distorted” and endangering perceptions for the objects. The object is not only instinctively pleasant or frustrating, it is loved and loving, hated and hating, envying or envied. The task of the “Ego” is to cope with the struggle between the vital and the instincts toward death. Aggression and the libido appear as a constant conflict between feelings of hatred and love, which are expressed as different form of ambivalence. The problem of aggression here is defined not so much in the context of instincts, impulses and development but in the light of a hypothesis for strong emotions and affects.

Individual theory of Alfred Adler. Firstly, as a student of Freud, Adler accepts his idea for the unconscious nature of aggression too, but later he denies it and starts to consider it as a form of the complex of inferiority and a means of pursuit of power, which exerts influence upon the social interactions of the individual. He claims that this is a totally male characteristic of personality and calls it “male protest” in order to outline and express the tendency towards change and transition from the passive female to the active and male role. He preserves the idea that aggression is meant to “attack” a specific object and pays less attention to the unconscious psychosexual material. He turns more and more to the social phenomena.

2. Holistic theory. Karen Horny makes the presupposition that on the grounds of the systematic and motivated behaviour during the whole path of life of the individual lays anxiety. She calls it primary and it is represented by the felt by the child’s state of neglect, isolation and inability to cope with a potentially hostile world.Тhe child can react through one of the following three ways-to learn to walk toward people and to be open and receptive to communication; to walk against people and to reveal hostile behaviour or to walk аside from people trying to escape an eventual conflict. To Horny the origin of aggression lies in the рейецтион of the child.Тhis denial leads to experiencing pleasure, achieved by inflicting pain on the others- sadism, which on its own way comes from the feeling of despair and uselessness. It emphasizes the importance of processes of earlier child’s upbringing and more specifically the critical importance and necessity of warm and protective parents.

Theory of attachment. John Boulby- soon after birth the vague and raising threat figures together with the feeling of loss and leaving the safe, confident place cause distress. Until the second-third month being alone or in unfamiliar situation cause apparent fear. Till the beginning of the process of attachment to the attending ones, the fear expectation and the feeling for safety are aroused by the same stimuli- the child is alarmed by the threat and this signal makes it strive for deepening of the closeness with the one giving attendance. In case that the needed closeness can not be achieved, it falls in distress which is significantly harder and much more different from the initial feeling of anxiety which Boulby calls alarm. The little child experiences slightly expressed alarm and learns to master it. If the access to the attaching figure is kept in readiness, it feels safe and confident and is in condition to study its surroundings from distance. If safety is threatened during most of the time, child’s ability to learn and develop social contacts is disturbed. Anger, aggression , indifference and cool behaviour in a child who has been parted from his figure of attachment (in the process of his/her separateness, for example), are child’s emotional and cognitive reactions in relation to the trauma of separation.

This theory shows how the unclear and pathological types of parental aggressive behaviour could pass on the generations. A child that receives enough sensual and loving support and emotional presence of his/her parents develops proportional and adequate self-esteem, as well as confidence that in case of need the important others will be at his/her disposal in order to provide the needed care and support.

According to the other variant the child develops shortage of feelings toward him/herself and the other people, as well as a variety of emotional reactions towards the insensible caring, especially and mostly anxiety and anger. It is regarded that the kinds of binding as such in the future have bigger еffects than specific and concrete traumatic events. Children begin to develop inside models at the end of the first year of their life. In that sense if they receive insensitive caring, they construct models which perceive the important others as uncaring and undeserving trust and themselves-as undeserving the corresponding cares and unworthy of love. These models are not passive filters of the subjective experiences but it seems that they force the individual to recreate the experiences which correspond to his past relations. Through internalizing the aggression of their mothers these children have learned and mastered the provocative and the punishable side of the relationships.

The theory for social learning explains that the aggression is a learned form of social behaviour. According to Albert Bandura the roots of human aggression are not in inborn impulses for violence, too, but rather here those which impose influence are learned and rewarded models for reaction, which the personality has witnessed or used successfully. For reasons for the aggressive behaviour he points only to certain conditions from the surrounding social milieus which confirm themselves as behavioral models if they are rewarded with a direct or indirect support. Some authors who support this theory emphasize on the behaviour of the referential relatives in the face of the family. According to them crucial factors are the following ones: unsatisfactory emotionality on the part of the parents (which leads to high aggression), dictatorial-punishing style of upbringing on the part of the parents (which determines the unfolding of the aggression factor), aggressive rage (as a model of behaviour), and the attitude of the mother when she does not give love to her child but often confronts with it. [4]

In 1981 Berkowitz tries to define a new relationship between the characteristics of the personality and the concrete behavioral acts. The author separates the aggressors to instrumental and reactive. As for the instrumental ones he has based his researches on the psychopathic alterations of the antisocial personality. He seeks for reasons for their originating in the individuals themselves and not in the specific negative conditions of the milieu. The instrumental aggressors do not act in this way in order to compensate for their feeling of inferiority, because not all of them come from poor unprivileged families. They are often self-confident and rude rather than worried and unsure in their own abilities and through violence strive to еestablish superiority and control upon the others. He determines their strong emotional excitement as a peculiarity for the forming of the reactive aggressors. Thanks to this excitement they can easily be provoked. They see threats and assaults which is not necessary to exist in the reality. The emotional reactivity is connected to personal characteristics such as impulsiveness, anxiety and low self-control.

After a research in 1999 on an exemplary text of 247 crime scenes of murders, Salfaty describes behavioral models of committing a murder and connects them with the instrumental and the emotional-reactive aggression. [4] The results show that the crime scenes can be differentiated according to the emotional or instrumental role of the victim of the murderer.

In 2000 Oelow promotes the thesis of a connection between the motivation for killing with a specific functioning of the personality- high degree of sadism and aggression in addition to narcistic characteristics which determine the еvil-qualitative development of the psychopathic structure; “the benefit from aggression is in favour of narcissism-cruelty towards the others as a form of triumphant victory over the rejecting object. Oelow claims that the criminogenic significance of the negative emotions and the lack of limitation can be seen as a whole. The negative emotionality is manifested in a tendency for perceiving life in a wrong way which provokes аaccumulation of anxiety. This accumulation leads to perceiving neutral situations as threatening ones. These people, who are constantly in situations of frustration and disappointments, in a constant distress, evaluate themselves extremely negatively, too. [4]

Weak self-control leads to taking a risk without predicting the negative consequences from it. Especially in terms of violence, individuals who have at least one past indictment, have shown to possess stronger impulsiveness in their personality profile, with a definite negative attitude towards the world.

Long-lasting researches on big populations in the USA in 2002 and New Zealand in 1994 bring out several indexes for rating the risk of having violent behaviour with a stress on the personal characteristics.

Probably there is not a superfluous theory among the above described ones. They all contain a part of the whole truth and in order to clarify the aggressive behaviour we should rely on all of them. Nevertheless, as a whole, the results from the expert researches outline the following portrait of the lawbreakers [2]:

1.Cognitive sphere- not very high level of intelligence, intellectual and/or personal deficits are possible, narrowed possibilities for choice of behavioral reactions, еembarrassed orientation in new milieu, as well as weak self-reflection

2. Emotional sphere – the process of forming of the Self-image is in the negative register or is not finished yet, because of the emotional misbalance which stimulates also the development of the different accentuations of the character. At hand are emotional instability, egocentrism, affection, destructive fixation upon own emotional experiences. Very often the emotional immaturity is manifested through intensive experiences of lack of satisfaction and uncertainty which determines the instability and misbalancing of the self-estimation. As a result from this the processes of forming of mechanisms for self-control are impeded. On a behavioral level all this is manifested in the disability to delay the satisfaction of situational necessities, lack of alternatives for action and in the development of impulsive reactions. These tendencies are structured on the ground of affective unmastering and storing. They produce the impulsive, inadequate and unpredictable behavior

3. Social sphere- social immaturity presupposes communicative еembarrassment and lowered social contact. Relationships are distinguished for strong polarity, at hand is a high level of conflict with the others which combines with extreme conformism concerning the norms and values of the criminal group or subculture. Very often we have an overwhelming feeling of isolation and еstrangeness. These experiences stimulate the functioning of adjustments for opposition to imposed from the outside regulations which leads to active negativism toward order, discipline and engagement. Unemployment or long-lasting lack of satisfaction from profession, financial shortage, violence in past, present family problems are noticed. In the value orientation of the convicted criminals prevails the hedonistic – consummating purpose, which is manifested in outer plan under the form of ignoring attitude towards state institutions and lack of socially significant purpose taking. It is characterized with lowered critical disposition, lack of feeling of guilt and inadequate self-discharge

4. Attitude towards the future. There is not a conception full of matter about their life. They do not have their own developed life programs, and their attitude toward the suggested ones is negative. In their pretensions prevail indefinite, vague orientations which are in their content a direct projection of primitive desires.

 The practice of the specialized state organs shows that breaching the law can be committed by persons with limited psychic abilities for evaluation of the situation too, therefore of the stimuli for doing one or another action too. This is very often connected with temporary or permanent disorder of the psychic processes and of the consciousness. In one part of these disorders (pathologic disorders) the doers are defined as innocent and they are not used to make inquiries and court actions. There can only be taken measures for isolation and compulsory medical treatment.

The criminal action can be stimulated (provoked) by the contradictory character of the inquiries connected with the execution of one or another social role. In this case the forbearance from committing breaches of law actions is due to both wrong perceptive assessment of the situation and the expected consequences and the irrevocability of the punishable pursuit. The provoking role of the role engagement is especially characteristic for crimes which are connected with family conflicts and for taking part in crimes which are committed in criminal groups. [2]

The analysis of a number of crimes against personality shows that the condition of the doer before the very committing of the criminal act, in the time of the crime and after that is characterized by some form of psychic inadequacy which suppresses the normal perceiving of the stimuli of the milieu, which narrows the consciousness. In this way it focuses attention only upon the object of aggression and lowers totally personal self-control. [5]

Sometimes it is possible in some way the victim to provoke aggression against him/herself. There is data for this in 26 % of the victims of murder. Criminologists consider that a reason for the crime against personality may be found in the victim him/herself. The case which is represented in the following several lines is a real one and is in fact a murder because of carelessness. With it I would like to illustrate the possibility a crime to be committed without the intention of the doer to kill his/her victim. [5]

It is about the person R.T., at the age of 24, coming from a not very big town. R.T. deals with resale of small belongings in the street. A usual habit of his is to visit a bar somewhere and drink several beers. On the day in question he is together with some friends for some pints of beer. A prostitute approaches to them and offers them sexual favors. R.T. sends her away. Then the girl goes to another table and calls one of her acquaintances. He is also drinking and makes his way to the table of R.T. obviously with the purpose to take matters into his own hands. R.T. in an impulse of anxiety, with inhibitions and coordination of the movements weakened by the alcohol, reacts by hitting the аattacker in the face. Than last falls on the ground, police comes and everyone goes home. After several hours the person who was hit dies in his home from a hematoma in the brain, and R.T. becomes a performer of a murder.

A few words about the deviant behaviour of the growing-ups:

Inferiority complexes, a feeling of fear of aggressive classmates, unemployment, conflicts in the family and other circumstances, leading to a deficit of values as a whole, are often observed among contemporary pupils. This yields to a negative treatment to education and teachers, problems in discipline, escapes from school, a low social adaptation, an increased inclination for conflicts and aggression. Everyday situations, though quite innocent at a first glance, might provoke aggressive deviancy.

About two/thirds of minor lawbreakers descend from incomplete or families of many children from the subcultural community. Scarce parent-child relations /abandoned by one or the two parents, an early loss of a parent/, episodic and formal contacts in the family, loaded with conflict interrelations, emotional rejection. The type of the family education varies from hyperprotection to hypoprotection. It is most often contradictory or ambivalent. Parents’ asocial behaviour, especially amid ethnic minorities’ representatives, is often adopted as a model of imitation. [2]

Social adaptation has various manifestations. As a rule we find it in fights, lying, aggressive and demonstrative disobedience. Later the symptoms of early deviancy are shown – thefts, escapes from home, leaving school, subcultural inclusion, wandering, use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. The readiness for development of deliquent behaviour is quite often in a combination with psychological personal confusions or accentuations.

The conducted scientific researches on law psychology indicate that the personality’s preparation for a complete social life is an essential reason not only for difficulties on the way of its social implementation, but for the non-observance of social norms as well. [2]

The criminal behaviour of the man is difficult, complex interaction between pure instincts, some factors of the social environment, learned reactions and legal norms. It is clear that if we want to fight effectively the crimes and violence, we need the joined efforts of specialists form different scientific areas – criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists etc.


  1. Burg, Br., G. Horgan (2001). “Criminalistic”. IH “Labour”.
  2. Gajdarov, C. (2001). A try to differential different of the subject of psychology of deviant behaviour. Institute of psychology – MI. Anniversary collection. S., P.h. of VIPOND.
  3. Gajdarov, К. А. Chajigeorgieva (2005). Explanatory models of criminal behaviour. Collection of science reports from third national congress in psychology. “Sofi-R”.
  4. Popov, Cr. (1999). Human aggression. “Sofia “.
  5. Stojchev, N. (2005). Psychological profile of author of the murder. “Paradigma”.
  6. Fromm, E. (2003). The Anatomy of human destructiveness. “Zahari Stojanov”.

George Dimitrov is a MA Psychologist in the Institute of Psychology – Ministry of Interior,

Published in 2006

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