Psychological Vs Labeling Criminal Behavior Theories


            Crime cannot be separated from the society and it remains one of most challenging phenomena throughout the years, (Benyahia, 2012). Crime happens on a daily basis in the society and this has led to criminologists to term it as one of the deviance with many theories put forth to explain this behaviour. However, these theories are contradicting with some experts pointing stress as a major cause while others have attributed crime to being caused by psychological traits that are hereditary in nature. Other criminologists have pointed poverty as the major cause. Therefore, there are many theories that have been put forth to explain major factors behind criminal activities in the society. The following are two of the theories suggested, together with their strengths and weaknesses.

Psychological theories

The psychological theories were developed by psychologists in order to explain criminal and delinquent behaviors in the society. One of the pioneers of psychological theories is Sigmund Freud who attributed instinctual forces, that demands gratification as prevalent in human nature as the causes of criminal behaviors, (Marsh & Melville, 2006). These forces are governed by the societal moral (superego) and ethical codes. Freud termed the instinctual forces as id and that they are internalized by individuals due to their love for parents and any other form of attachments. During adulthood, an individual develops ego that balances id and superego. The failure of superego causes criminal behaviour.


  • Focuses on the criminals giving the characteristics of such individuals
  • Identifies the factors that are abnormal which separates the criminals from the non-criminal individuals
  • It states the main cause of crime as arising from the individual
  • It states that criminals are the human beings who are less developed
  • It insinuates that individuals have a freedom of choice on whether to commit crime or not
  • It blames the society as one of the causes of criminal behaviour


  • It blames society as the causes of crimes which is not the case, however, crime is caused by agents of social control
  • It has more conflicts than consensus as put by Marxists
  • The social function of crime as used in these theories is actually not the same as explaining the causes of these deviant behaviour

Labeling Theory

            This theory focuses on the individuals or groups that were deemed as criminals or those whose society deemed so. It studied the interactions of these groups with the conformist society in which they existed, (Hörnle, 2014). The varied results from empirical research led to decline in popularity of this theory, which had taken root in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This theory has been attributed with the following strengths and weaknesses.


  • It gives statement of facts on what is criminal and what is right in the context in which such an individual lives
  • It presents the society as a thinking group and that it has the ability to determine what is right and that which is wrong


  • States that, actions are only criminal when the society says so, otherwise they would be not criminal. However, some actions are criminal in some societies and are not criminal in others.
  • Uses self-labeling which may not identify criminals who avoids witnesses in their acts, for instance murders

In my view, the most applicable theory today is the psychological theory. This theory is conclusive in that it covers all the aspects that define a human being. The theory covers the mental aspect that is defined by hereditary factors as well as the surrounding environment, giving a wide scope that covers almost all types of crimes common today.

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