Critically evaluate the extent to which research into personality disorders contributes to our understanding of criminal behaviour

 

This essay will provide an outline of how research into personality disorder has strengthened knowledge about the antecedents of criminal behaviour. Initially, there will be a review of the nature of the relationship between personality disorder and criminal behaviour. Following this, research in relation to key areas of this relationship will be explored. Namely, research that focuses on neurological underpinnings of criminal behaviour will be examined. Furthermore, a neurobiological explanation for criminal behaviour will be critiqued in relation to other explanations. To conclude research into what antisocial personality disorder and borderline offers in terms of management and correction of criminal behaviour.

 

Personality disorder

Criminal behaviour may be consequential to the presence of a clinical disorder (Raine, 2013). Since criminal behaviour involves violation of legally sanctioned norms and values upheld by the community within which the offender resides, it is readily associated with personality disorder. 

The DSM-5 (APA, 2012) is the diagnostic tool widely used to identify core impairments in personality functioning, in line with specific configurations of problematic personality traits. The DSM-5 manual outlines specific clusters of traits that act as indicators for different types of personality disorder but states that the essential features involve “significant impairments in self (identity and self-direction) and interpersonal (empathy or intimacy) functioning” (APA, 2012). The different types include antisocial, avoidant, borderline, narcissistic, obsessive–compulsive and schizotypal personality disorders (Morey, Benson and Skodol, 2016).The personality factor of novelty or sensation seeking is often elevated in individuals with personality disorder, particularly anti-social personality disorder (ASPD), as it explains those behaviours that may lead the individual to the point of diagnosis, such as drug abuse or criminal offence (Ebstein and Belmaker, 2002).Following systematic review of general prison populations in Western societies, Fazel and Danesh (2002) identified that 65% of offenders had a personality disorder. However, it is important to note that a) personality disorder may remain undiagnosed, b) not all crime is reported and c) not all criminals are convicted, so the exact nature of the relationship between personality disorder and criminal behaviour remains uncertain.

 

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is characterised by a “violation of the rights of others” (APA, 2012), directly implicating those with ASPD in criminal activity. This is supported by Janowsky (2008), who reports that those diagnosed with ASPD are often repeat criminal offenders. Ogloff et al (2015) found that there was a high prevalence of ASPD (43.1%) in offending populations. Similarly, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) leads the individual to partake in activities that put them at risk due to a high level of impulsivity. Whereas ASPD is related to antagonism and disinhibition (APA, 2012), BPD is related to unstable self-image and excessive self critique. This means that different types of personality disorder may lead to committing different types of criminal act. For example, individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are more likely to commit violent acts in order to gain admiration from others or as an extreme reaction of rage following criticism (Ronningstam, 2005). In contrast, individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are less likely to be implicated in criminal activities because the individual shows restraint and inhibition in new situations (Chong and Fellows, 2014). Whereas ASPD will actively take risks, to the point of ignoring the safety of themselves and others, APD will be reluctant to take risks. Fundamentally, there is a strong relationship between personality disorder and violent crimeand research in this area has shown that ASPD, NPD, schizotypy and psychopathy are prevalent among serial murderers (Durrant, 2012). Establishing this connection has been useful in criminal profiling, but more information is required about the underlying reasons for this relationship (Moffitt, 2006; Stone, 2007).

 

ASPD and crime

Riopka, Coupland and Olver (2015) assert that individuals with anti-social traits are unlikely to support acts that are prosocial. This is not to suggest that all psychopathic individuals will commit acts of crime or that anti-personality disorder is the only type to be associated with criminality, but research into antisocial behaviour has identified a link with criminality (Raine, 2013). Stone (2007) identifies that individuals who commit violent crime are predominantly identified as those with ASPD. However, historically, there have been complications with ASPD and concurring conditions, such as psychopathy (Hart and Hare, 1997) and substance use disorder (Mueser, Crocker, Frisman, Drake, Covell, and Essock, 2006). The highest rates of ASPD are found in maximum security prison settings (Ogloff, Talevski, Lemphers, Wood and Simmons, 2015). However, this is not to suggest that one institutionalised, individuals with ASPD are liable to continue with aggressive and volatile behaviour.  – Answer the question here – how it contributes to our understanding i.e this is why research into anti-social personality disorder contributes to our understanding of criminal behaviour … please keep referring back to the question posed. As they want to know how it contributes to our understanding of criminal behaviour

Neurological explanations

Brain imaging research has indicated differences in brain structure between individuals with ASPD who commit crime and healthy controls. Cavum septum pellucidum (CSP) is a marker for fetal neural development; a lack of limbic development results in the continuation of CSP into adulthood. Research conducted by Raine, Lee, Yang and Colletti (2010) identified higher levels of antisocial personality along with more arrests and convictions in those with CSP compared with controls. This shows that early issues with development of limbic and septal structures leadto antisocial behaviours and, furthermore, increased chance of becoming involved in criminal activity. A relationship between differential grey matter volumes and criminal behaviour was identified by Tang, Jiang, Liao, Wang and Luo (2013). They argue that improvements in understanding of the functional connectivity in brains of patients diagnosed with ASPD will lead to more objective diagnoses of the clinical disorder. Furthermore, such objective measurement can offer a better understanding of the relationship between neurological activity and criminal behaviour. This type of research investigation supports theoretical work that suggests criminal behaviour has a neurological basis (Glenn and Raine, 2014) as it provides facility to map those areas of the cerebral cortex that are implicated in such behaviour (Hagmann, Cammoun, Gigandet, Meuli, Honey, Wedeen, and Sporns, 2008). Indeed, Gregory et al (2015) found that men with ASPD had an altered organisation of the information processing system that is responsible for decisions based on reward and punishment, which was resultant of an atypical activation in the posterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula. This research is particularly useful when considering interventions for individuals with ASPD who commit crime but are resistant to punishment. Furthermore, this could lead to correcting behaviour in the control of symptoms through modulation of the excitability and the activity of cortical and related sub-cortical networks. For instance, Canavero (2009) argues that the experimental application of cortical neuromodulation can be developed in relation to the control of repeat offenders. However, this type of methodology adopts a universal, deterministic approach to the relationship between personality disorder and criminal behaviour. 

As well as brain structure and function, Walsh and Bolen (2012) discuss the role of serotonin and dopamine in terms of the problems associated with criminal behaviour. These two neurotransmitters underline approach and avoidance behaviour, therefore imbalance will govern whether anti-social behaviours are activated or inhibited. Fazel, Zetterqvist, Larsson, Långström and Lichtenstein (2014) notethat significant reduction of rates of violence were recorded in patients who were in receipt of antipsychotic medication. However, studies such as this provide quantitative data that are not useful in explaining causal factors. In line with treatment aetiology fallacy, the use of medication to alter behaviour does not suggest the cause of the behaviour in the first instance. 

 

Cognitive explanations

The interaction between clinical disorder and criminal behaviour is a complex process, as cognitive and emotive factors may act as mediators. Indeed, the emergence of criminal behaviour may be consequential to emotional instability. In a study of the effects of emotional stimuli on cognitive tasks, Prehn, Schulze, Rossmann, Berger, Vohs, Fleischer and Herpertz (2013) found that criminal offenders with borderline and anti-social personality disorder showed delayed responses and enhanced activation of the left amygdala in the presence of emotionally high salient pictures. These results were independent of working memory load, which suggests that emotionally salient social scenes trigger a particular interaction between emotion and cognition inaffective instable individuals that may lead to aggressive and violent acts. In comparison with self-report measures, this research used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to demonstrate objective differences between criminal offenders with ASPD and healthy controls. 

The same here refer back to the question … i.e this shows that cognitive explanations of antisocial pdisorder …..

 Life stresses and developmental explanations

Poor social support mechanisms and multiple stressful life events contribute to psychopathological symptoms; high rates of personality disorder are attributed to lack of access to mental health resources (Aneshensel, Rutter, and Lachenbruch, 1991). However, psychological explanations for the relationship between personality disorder and low socio-economic status follow the application of the socio-medical model, when the underlying cause is predominantly biological(Raine, 2013).

The relationship between biological and environmental factors has been investigated by Belsky and Pluess (2009, p.893), who noted that individuals with high levels of negative emotionality have a highly sensitive nervous system. Indeed, Eysenck (1997) argued that individuals acquire a criminal disposition that is partly inherited, and moderated by biological and social influences. For example, during childhood, if the immediate environment of the individual is negative and undermining of wellbeing, there will be a struggle to maintain prosocial behaviours. This suggests that under high adversity conditions, those children with high sensitivity, such as cortisol reactivity (Fernald, Burke and Gunner, 2008), are likely to develop anti-social behaviours that then lead to personality disorder if not corrected.

In serious offending, such as repeated acts of sexual violence, developmental problems and the role of fantasy may be instrumental factors (Warren, Hazelwood and Dietz, 1996; Douglas, Burgess, Burgess, and Ressler, 2013). Whilst attachment theory concepts have provided explanatory links between personality disorder and sexual violence, a more comprehensive model is required, so that “policy makers can organize interventions that focus on creating and shifting to secure attachment styles in order to reduce the risk factors associated with sexual offending behaviors” (Grady, Levenson and Bolder, 2016, p.9). This shows that understanding of personality disorder and attachment (developmental psychopathology) can help with effective prevention and treatment interventions. 

Cloninger and Svrakic (2016) suggest that even in severe cases of personality disorder, the use of therapeutic measures can alter the individual’s perspective to accommodate for a healthier state of wellbeing. This reinforces the vital role of a positive, prosocial environment. 

However, not certain types of intervention may need to be tailored to particular personality disorder when attempting to address criminal behaviour. Highly structured contexts seem to have a rehabilitative effect for those with ASPD, as they respond to cognitive-based programmes of behaviour management, particularly those that focus on short term reward, whereas non-directive approached, such as the implementation of humanistic therapies, are unlikely to offer success (Ogloff, Talevski, Lemphers, Wood and Simmons, 2015). There are limitations, however, in application of these findings, as the research labours under a gender bias since the study only include male subjects. There were also methodological weaknesses as the data collection was based on retrospective accounts from the offenders, so may be subject to social desirability bias. Furthermore, issues of comorbidity may have not been sufficiently identified, as offenders with substance use disorder might have restricted information for fear of how it might impact on their treatment within the facility. However, the research helps to identify a need to understand how important ASPD requires structured research interventions.

 

Critique of personality type and criminality

Whether different types of personality disorder can be attributed to different type of criminal behaviour can argued due to other factors such as temperament(DeLisi and Vaughn, 2014). Indeed, Chun et al (2017) identified a vulnerability in diagnostic procedures as comorbidity may underlie criminal activity in relation to ASPD and BPD, since they share common processes, such as impulsivity and risk taking. Youngs (2004) highlights contention in attempting to find connections between personality and offending style, leading to suggestion of a more sophisticated means of connecting aspects of personality, such as openness and control, with criminal behaviour. Davison and Janca (2012) identify a gap in research literature and a failure in psychological investigation to fully examine the relationship between different types of personality disorder and different patterns of offending. They argue, however, that the role played by personality disorder is much higher in serious offenders but they state that it is more important to examine factors that interact with personality disorder, such as substance abuse or maladaptive cognitions, to gain a valid account for a relationship between personality disorder and offending.

Chun et al (2017) are concerned with gender differences, as males are often diagnosed with ASPD and females with BPD (Sansone and Sansone, 2011).  Furthermore, Risser and Eckert (2016) found gender differences in their examination of a relationship between psychopathic affective traits, moral disengagement and antisocial behaviour. The management of criminal behaviour may require an appreciation of gender difference beyond distinction between different personality types. Indeed, females are less likely to be convicted of violent crime when compared to male subjects (Turanovic et al, 2015). Yet, to suggest that violent behaviour alters with gender is to miss the subtle differences that are associated with different types of personality disorder. Patrick (2014) notes that relations between personality disorder and violent behaviour persist but that psychophysiological and neuroimaging studies indicate that symptomatic features show commonalities as well as differences.

 

Conclusion

The work in this essay has provided a number of key findings that indicate the complex relationship between personality disorder and criminal behaviour, particularly focusing on ASPD. In relation to sufficient understanding of the nature of this relationship, more empirical data is required as causation is still unclear, although neurological explanations are dominant. There are complications with obtaining objective measures of such a relationship but advances in neuroimaging technology and the successful use of various types of treatment programmes further insight into the role that personality disorder plays in the committing of criminal acts.Yet, it is important to note that greater differences emerge within ASPD due to gender differences, environmental factors and concurring conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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