Psychological Explanations of Criminal Behaviour

Curriculum Guideline

Effective Date:
Course Code
CRIM 2251
Psychological Explanations of Criminal Behaviour
Humanities & Social Sciences
Start Date
End Term
Semester Length
Max Class Size
Contact Hours
Lecture: 4 hrs. per week / semester
Method(s) Of Instruction
Learning Activities

The course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives, including some of the following:  lectures, audio visual materials including DVD, small group discussions and research papers.

Course Description
This course will involve a detailed study of psychological approaches to explaining recidivist criminal behaviour. Some of the specific theories subject to critical examination will include: psychoanalytic, behaviourism, social cognitive, developmental, and Eysenck’s Theory of Personality and Crime. Theoretical and empirical approaches will be utilized to explain the behaviour of offenders involved in property crimes and /or violent crimes.
Course Content

  1. Introduction and Overview
    • Definitions
    • Free Will vs. Determination
    • Self-Report Studies
    • Limitations
  2. Theory
    • Psychoanalytic/Psychodynamic Theory
    • Behaviourism
    • Kohlberg/Erikson
    • Social Cognitive Theory
    • Eysenck’s Theory of Personality and Crime
  3. Biological Factors
    • Genetics
  4. Psychopathy
    • Why Include a Personality Disorder?
    • Current Explanations of Psychopathy and Criminal Behaviour
    • Etiology of Psychopathy
    • Role of the Family
    • Neuro-Physiological Concepts
  5. Mentally Disordered Offender
    • Criminal Responsibility
    • Specific Disorders and Their Relationship to Criminal Offending
  6. Violence/Homicide
    • Defining Violence
    • Theoretical Perspectives
    • Physiology
    • Environmental Factors
    • Family Violence
    • Personality
    • Correlate
    • Multicide (Mass, Spree, and Serial)
  7. Sexual Offences
    • Fetishism and Relationship to Crime
    • Exhibitionism and Voyeurism
    • Pedophilia (typologies and crime cycle)
    • Sexual Assault (typologies and crime cycle)
  8. Dangerousness
    • Prediction
  9. Youth Crime
  10. Property Crime
  11. Special Topics

Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course the successful student will be able to:

The primary objective of this course is to familiarize students with psychologically-based theoretical explanations of criminal behaviour.  Students will learn to critically evaluate and assess psychological theories of crime.  Students will be able to explain from different psychological theoretical approaches how criminal behaviour is acquired and maintained.  Finally, students will learn how to critically evaluate and assess empirical research of criminal behaviour.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based on course objectives and be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy.  The instructor will provide a written course outline with specific evaluation criteria at the beginning of the semester.  Evaluation will be based on some of the following:


  1. Short Answer Tests
  2. Exams
  3. Term Papers


An example of one possible evaluation scheme would be:

Two Mid-Semester Exams (25% each)  50%
Final Exam  25%
Research Paper  25%
Total 100%
Textbook Materials

Texts will be updated periodically. A typical example is:

  • Bartol, C. and Bartol A. (2008). Criminal Behaviour: A Psychosocial Approach, (8th ed.). Pearson: Prentice-Hall.