Psychological Explanations: Eysenck’s Personality Theory

General personality theory:                                                                                             

  • Hans Eysenck (1947) important figure in personality and intelligence during 50’s and 60’s, proposed that behaviour could be represented along 2 dimensions
    • Extraversion/introversion
    • Neuroticism/stability
    • He later added a third dimension: psychoticism (cold, unemotional, prone to aggression).

Biological basis:                    

  • Eysenck stated that personality traits are biological in origin, come about through inherited nervous system – all personality types, including criminal personality type, have an innate biological basis
    • Extraverts have an underactive nervous system – seek excitement, stimulation, more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours such as crime, also do not tend to condition easily
    • Neurotic individuals more nervous, jumpy and overly-anxious – behaviour is difficult to predict

The Criminal Personality:

  • Criminal Personality type = neurotic-extravert, also will score highly on psychoticism.

The role of socialisation:

  • Eysenck believes that personality links to criminal behaviour in that people with this behaviour do not respond to socialisation or conditioning
    • Criminal behaviour is developmentally immature – selfish, concerned with immediate gratification, impatient
    • People with high E/N scores have nervous systems more difficult to condition -> not learn easily to respond to antisocial impulses with anxiety, more likely to act antisocially.

Measuring the criminal personality:

  • Developed the EPI (Eysenck Personality Inventory) which locates respondents along E, N and (later) P scales.


Supporting Evidence – Sybil Eysenck and Hans Eysenck (1977) compared 2070 male prisoners on EPI with 2422 male controls.  Groups were subdivided into age groups ranging from 16-69 years, across all age groups and measures, prisoners scored more highly than controls – suggests that these traits do have a correlation with criminal behaviour. Inconsistent Evidence – David Farrington et al (1982) – reviewed studies and reported that offenders scored highly on P, but not for E and N – suggests that theory is incomplete.

Idea of single criminal type – Terrie Moffitt (1993) proposed several distinct types of male offender based on timing of first offence, how long offending persists – suggests it is inappropriate to type all criminals the same.

Reductionist – John Digman (1990) – proposed Five-Factor Model of personality, alongside E and N there are additional dimensions of openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness, and multiple combinations that lead to offending – suggests this theory is simplistic.

Cultural Bias – Curt Bartol and Howard Holanchock (1979) – studied Hispanic and African American offenders in a maximum security prison in New York, divided them into six groups based on criminal history and nature of offence. Revealed that all six groups less extraverted than non-criminal controls – perhaps this theory does not account for traits of other cultures, not generalizable.