Cognitive Theories of Crime: Overview & Features

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Vericia Miller

Vericia has a masters in criminal justice.

Cognitive theories offer one avenue to explain crime and criminal behavior. Review the definition of a theory, the range of cognitive theories developed to understand crime, and the roles of personality and intelligence in criminal behavior. Updated: 01/12/2022

What's a Theory?

For most people interested in the field of criminal justice, and certainly for those who are already working in the field, understanding criminal behavior is very important. Unless you know and understand why people behave as they do, your ability to help them will be limited and ineffective. Theories help us to understand why people do what they do. Theories of criminal behavior provide explanations for why crime exists, as well as those factors that influence criminal behavior.

Theories are a good starting point for understanding criminal behavior because they are backed up and supported by scientific research that can prove or disprove certain explanations of criminal behavior. They also provide us with a good knowledge base for such things as best practices in working with at-risk populations, rehabilitative programs, therapy, and even the passage of laws. So now that you have a basic understanding of what theories are, let's delve into a certain kind of theory and talk more about cognitive theories of criminal behavior

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Cognitive Theories of Crime

Before we get into cognitive theories of crime, let's first define the word ''cognitive'' itself. Cognitive is defined as an ability to process information. Cognition has to do with one's ability to learn information quickly, memorize, and understand information they receive. Therefore, cognitive theories of crime fall under the psychological theories of criminal behavior. It's very important for you to know that there are many different theories out there that attempt to explain criminal behavior.

In our desperation to understand why people commit crimes in the first place, psychologists and sociologists often study, analyze, and develop explanations of why these behaviors exist. So please remember that the cognitive theory is one of many psychological theories of criminal behavior. Cognitive theories of crime explain criminal behavior as a defect in moral thinking, thought processes, and mental development. Cognitive theories also help us to understand how an individual's personality and intelligence level are linked to delinquency. These theories are pretty broad but mainly hone in on the factors I've just outlined.

Cognitive theories focus on how we perceive the world around us, how we think, and the factors that influence our mental development (family upbringing, parental modeling, personality, intelligence). These theories help to explain how we develop morally in our thought process.

Here's a great example, a young male child who was raised in a home where his mother was verbally and physically abused by his father is likely to have a skewed idea of what a healthy relationship is. He's more likely to be an abusive partner himself. His perception of women and relationships are likely to be negatively impacted and shaped by his upbringing and the poor parental modeling received from the male figure in the household. Of course, the same young boy can grow up to be the total opposite of his father in his personal relationships as well: nothing is 100%.

Role of Personality & Intelligence

So, do personality and intelligence really have anything to do with delinquent behavior? To answer this question, we need to pick apart each trait; let's start with personality. When you think of the word personality, what comes to mind? Is it the way a person behaves? Or maybe their attitude? Well, it's actually a little of both. Personality can be defined as those individual traits that make up one's character, attitude, and distinctive behaviors.

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