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
Not Specified
Semester Length
Max Class Size
Contact Hours

Lecture: 4 hrs



Method(s) Of Instruction
Learning Activities

The course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives, which may include:

  • Lectures
  • Group discussions and exercises
  • Student presentations
  • Audio-visual materials
  • Use of Blackboard
Course Description
This course will examine psychological approaches to explaining recidivist criminal behaviour. The principal objective for this course is to critically examine some of the historical and contemporary theories that relate to the understanding of deviant and/or criminal acts. The relationship between theory, research, and practice will be explored using theoretical and empirical approaches to examine offending behaviours such as property and/or violent crimes.
Course Content

The following outline guides the design and delivery of this course:

  • Introduction to psychological perspectives that explain deviant and criminal behaviour. 
    • Definitions, Research Trends, and Critiques 
  • Identification, explanation, and critical examination of psychological theory including:
    • Psychoanalytic/Psychodynamic Theory
    • Behaviourism
    • Developmental Factors
    • Biological Factors (i.e. genetics, psychophysiological factors, neurophysiological concepts)
    • Learning and Situational Factors
    • Social Cognitive Theory
  • Identification, explanation, and critical examination using psychological theory of topics including:
    • Psychopathy
    • Mental Health (the relationship between mental disorder and criminality)
    • Human Aggression/Violence (including homicide and multicide)
    • Sexual Offences (i.e. paraphilias, pedophilia, sexual assault)
    • Dangerousness (predicton of / risk assessment)
    • Youth Crime
    • Other Current Topics
Learning Outcomes

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

  1. Identify and discuss various psychologically based theoretical explanations of criminal behaviour.
  2. Critically examine psychological theories of crime.
  3. Explain, from different psychological theoretical approaches, how criminal behaviour is acquired and maintained.
  4. Critically evaluate and assess empirical research of criminal behaviour.


Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College Evaluation Policy.  The instructor will provide a written course outline with specific evaluation criteria at the beginning of the semester. 

Typical means of evaluation will include a combination of:  

  1. Written Assignments
  2. Class Presentations
  3. Examinations
  4. Term Paper
  5. Classroom Contribution (Participation) 

An example of one possible evaluation scheme would be:

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

Students may conduct research with human participants as part of their coursework in this class. Instructors for the course are responsible for ensuring that student research projects comply with College policies on ethical conduct for research involving humans.

Textbook Materials

Course texts such as the most recent edition of the following will be used.

Bartol, C. and Bartol A. (2017). Criminal Behaviour: A Psychosocial Approach, (11th ed.). Toronto, Ont: Pearson Education Limited.

Relevant journal articles and research will be included.