Psychoanalytic criminology

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Psychoanalytic criminology is a method of studying crime and criminal behaviour that draws from Freudian psychoanalysis. This school-of-thought examines personality and the psyche (particularly the unconscious) for motive in crime.[1] Other areas of interest are the fear of crime and the act of punishment.[2]

Criminal behaviour is attributed to maladjustment[1] and dysfunctional personality.[3] According to Buhagiar, "psychoanalytic criminologists were not adverse to the principle of confinement, and often favored increased penality".[1]


Psychoanalytic criminology may be said to have begun with a 1911 study of parricide;[4] but its real foundation came in 1916 when Freud published Criminality from a Sense of Guilt, in which he maintained that many criminals were driven by an unconscious guilt which preceded the crime and led to a need for punishment.[2] In applying psychoanalysis to the question of determining guilt or innocence in any given case, Freud was insistent however that analysis could only identify the guilty impulse, not necessarily the act itself.[5]

Another major contribution came in 1929 with the book by Franz Alexander and Hugo Staub entitled The Criminal, the Judge and the Public.[6] They drew a clear distinction between the normal criminal, for whom retribution was appropriate, and the neurotic criminal who needed treatment instead.[7]

Otto Fenichel added the point that while some criminals actively sought punishment to relive their unconscious guilt, others sought to avoid punishment in order to prove their guilt feelings were unjustified.[8] He also stressed that criminality was a legal, not a psychological category, and considered most criminals were normals rather than neurotics (if still with unconscious motivations and possible lacks in normal consciences).[9]

Psychoanalytic criminology was further developed by August Aichhorn, Melanie Klein, Fritz Redl, and David Wineman.[2]


Forensic psychiatry saw psychoanalytic criminology in a relatively negative light, with the twin dangers of acting as apologist for the criminal and over-simplifying criminal motivation at the fore.[10]

Others have seen an inherent contradiction between a value-neutral psychoanalysis, committed to healing, and the demands of the legal system;[11] while Thomas Szasz obejcted to the open-ended, paternalistic concept of 'treating' the neurotic criminal as an infringement of human rights in the name of social control.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Buhagiar, Lawrence (2006-07-01). "Criminals and their Scientists: The History of Criminology in International Perspective. By Peter Becker and Richard Wetzell (eds.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 492pp, {pound}60 hb).". Br J Criminol. 46 (4): 766–769. doi:10.1093/bjc/azl046. Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  2. ^ a b c Belser, Alex. "The Re-emergence of Psychoanalytical Criminology" (PDF). Cambridge Institute of Criminology. Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  3. ^ Hall, Prentice. "Glossary - P". Criminology Today, 4ed. Pearson Education Company. Retrieved 2008-01-09. 
  4. ^ The Development of Psychoanalytic Criminology
  5. ^ J. Halliday/P. Fuller, The Psychology of Gambling (1974) p. 168
  6. ^ Thomas S. Szasz, Law, Liberty and Psychiatry (1963) p. 94
  7. ^ Szasz, p. 93
  8. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 499
  9. ^ Fenichel, p. 505
  10. ^ P. Becker/R. F. Wetzell, Criminal and their Scientists (2006) p. 465-6
  11. ^ Becker, p. 467
  12. ^ Szasz, p. 94

Further reading[edit]

S. Freud, 'The Expert Opinion in the Halsmann Case' (SE 21)

A. Aichhorn, Wayward Youth (1957)

D. W. Winnicott, 'The Anti-Social Tendency' in Collected Papers (1958)