Latent Trait Theory: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

Why do people commit crime? This lesson looks at one of the many theories meant to answer this question. The theory of latent traits is discussed, defined and some of the traits are listed and explained.

An Unknown Criminal

The neighborhood Judson, at eighteen, grew up in was upper middle class and trusting. Everybody knew one another and every person was sure that their neighbors were upstanding. Unfortunately, even the best neighborhoods will attract crime. As a matter of fact, the neighborhood was perfect for criminals. It was a gated community, but that was easily handled, and people often didn't lock up properly at night. Then folks noticed little things missing. Little pieces of jewelry, a small TV, a small, but expensive, picture. Judson knew who the criminal was. All he had to do was wait for everybody to go to sleep and he could take almost anything he wanted. No one even suspected him, his parents were among the most respected people in the community, until he was caught trying to boost his next door neighbors Jaguar one night. It was a shock. Everyone thought the criminal was from outside the neighborhood. How could a good boy like Judson turn to crime?

What is Latent Trait Theory?

Like other theories of criminal intent, latent trait theory seeks to provide a reason for crime. The theory states that certain people have a personal characteristic that is responsible for their need to commit crime. The individual is often not responsible for what they do because their impulses are controlled by this specific trait. Also, the individual does not commit crime unless there is opportunity. This means that unless the individual is secure in the fact that they will be successful, they will not commit crime. So the trait only prompts the individual to crime when the environmental conditions are right.

What are Some of the Traits?

A trait is defined as something that is representative of an individual and differentiates him or her from other people. Latent refers to this characteristic being concealed. Thus, the trait may be somewhat obvious when people think about it, but, in general, it is hidden.

These traits only manifest themselves in criminal behavior when the right conditions exist. For Judson, that was a trusting neighborhood that did not think to properly lock up at night. Traits include, but are not limited to:

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