Research essay

3Crime and Identity

Crime and Identity


Humans resolve to criminal behaviour as a result of continuous crime identity attached to them which has an origin from processes of negative or undesired social comparisons done by people who have previously failed to accomplish their pro-social roles and as well have manifested non-conforming behaviour compounded and aggravated by contextual factors including dysfunctional family environment and the presence of criminal peer groups. Development of criminal identity is influenced by the manifestation of known criminals stored in the memory system and then is accessible depending on the appropriate situational cues. As individuals’ social context changes, social identity, on the other hand, changes correspondingly with the changes likely to take place in light of the initialising situation-specific schemas.

While unique identity or what is commonly termed as personal self-concept remain one of the primary factors understanding crime, other social aspects such as the self that particular crimes share with other criminals is also important to understanding crime. However, in criminal, the self is defined in accordance with their criminal affiliation. Part of how they think and who they are is significantly determined by collective identity referred to criminal social self. In this essay, it will elaborate on the relationship that exists between individual or group identity and the acts of crime. To clearly and substantially bring out the existing relationship, the research essay uses a number of models, themes and issues canvassed in CLC that helps to elaborate more on identity and crime. It will be argued that the themes and models can be used to explain on the development criminal identity thus allowing for better understanding of crime and identity.

There exist various theories explain the existence of crime. However, the essay requires us to examine particularly how identity can help understand crime. In this regard, understanding labelling theory is important in this context. According to the labelling theory, it is stated that persons become what they are labelled by others or what other individuals expect of them which largely affects their identities. Regarding the theory, individuals are more likely to behave in a manner to conform with the labels attached to them. For instance, associating a person with a particular stigma consequently affects his or her self-concept and social identity, which in return propagate particular behaviours as per the stigma.

According to Erikson’s (1963), the theory of ego identity formation suggests that development of criminal identity results from an identity crisis that takes place during adolescence where relationships with peers significantly impact its development. To deal with the psychosocial crisis, persons have to engage themselves in the exploration of diverse roles and identities which eventually result in the emergence of anti-social or pro-social identity. According to the theory, it is pointed out that the need for social comparison tends to be high during the adolescence age hence significantly precipitating to high levels of peer influence which affect individual’s identity. In this regard, social relationships with peers which criminal behaviours would implicate development of such behaviours as well. Therefore, there is relative resemblance as well as distinction resulting from identification. When the social identity of a particular group member possessing criminal behaviours is incorporated in an individual, the chances are that such behaviours will become salient to the particular individual.

Criminal self image, as well as criminal identity, arises from the process of depreciation and rejection of those peers who at one point are not associated with their specific anti-social behaviours or norms. For this reason, these individuals usually define or perceive themselves in a negative rather than positive manner. Therefore, it is right to point out that these persons define themselves exclusively not by the characteristics and traits they possess as well as an exhibit but instead the characteristics and traits that they lack or particularly those characteristics which they reject. Upon the establishment of criminal social identity through with reversed norms, member or individuals of that particular criminal group develop a sense of self-consistency through the manifestation of their recently acquired identity in regard to criminal behaviours (Breakwell, 1986).

As mentioned earlier, a number of theories have, and frameworks have been used to explain causes of crime. These theories range include but not limited to classical deterrence, labelling theory, social process, and social structure theory. Each of the mentioned theories has contributed a lot to the body knowledge regarding criminology: however, not all of the mentioned theories were adequate for the current research. While talking about identity, it is of the essence to pay attention to the biological aspects of the person in question. As studies suggest, individual’s acts of crime are significantly stimulated by a number of biological aspects including brain activity, biochemical differences, hormones, DNA, neurophysiology, and neurotransmitters among others.

Biological theories are mainly concerned with the analysis of biosocial criminology, psychobiology and personality disorders. In accordance to biosocial criminology, it suggests that individual interactions arise from person’s characteristics as well as predispositions interacting with a particular environment. To understand the identity of a person requires one to narrow down on individual traits as affected by environmental and genetic influences. Under the umbrella of individual behaviour and traits, we bring in the biological theory to deeply understand and explain the identity of a person as per his or her traits. As such, a clear understanding of individual identity would ensure that there is a more precise understanding of the crime through defining how susceptible the individual was or how the surrounding factors contributed to an impact on identity hence resulting in crime.

According to Lorenzi-Ciodi and Doise (1990), social identity involves being situated at individual’s level of examination. A number of researches have been conducted to explain how crime is dictated by social identity. For instance, Turner (1999) in his works pointed out that there is a significant importance of the role of personality in foreseeing group identification. However, the scholar went further and argued that social identity is affected by context variables rather than personal differences (Turner, 1999, p.23).

In addition, according to Mills et al. (2004), he provided that the present of criminal behaviours or actions may be enough to suggest or indicate that there is the presence of criminal attitudes. However, the study suggested that on the contrary, the absence of antisocial personality would not at the end denote the absence of criminal behaviours or attitudes. There is a high correlation between personality traits or the identity of a person and criminal behaviours or thinking. According to a study conducted by Bulten et al. (2009) showed that criminal lifestyles held strong support from criminal belief systems incorporating criminal thinking lifestyles and are supported by particular personality traits including but not limited to impulsivity. In further researches conducted concerning the issue revealed that a number of personal variables which define identity played a major role in explaining the existence of criminal thinking. According to Boduszek (2010), hence, variables included the level of education, the number of children, marital status, age, association with criminal friends, and recidivism among others.

Additionally, more studies suggest that in-group affect, in-group ties and extraversion contribute significantly to understanding the issue of criminal thinking. In accordance with Egan et al. (2000), prisoners who exhibit high levels of carefree, dominant and sensation seeking are more likely to exhibit high levels of criminally oriented thinking patterns and distorted thoughts. These insights go hand in hand with the contributions of the social identity theory that attempt to bring out the relationship between individual thinking style and identity (Hogg and Smith, 2007). Criminal thinking style is largely predicted by criminal identity that is the in-group ties, and in-group affect as well as personality. In the light that criminal thinking is in conjunction with the three factors of individual personality including extraversion, psychotics, and neuroticism brings in the idea of Eysenck’s model regarding the relationship between criminal behaviour and individual identity or personality (Eysenck and Gudjonsson, 1989). Current studies conducted in light of explaining criminal behaviours hold that there is a strong relationship between the aforementioned factors and the criminal thinking.

According to issues discussed in CLC, it is argued that in order to develop a clear understanding of the criminal behaviour or actions, it is of the essence to first of all narrow down to the deeply rooted factors in the individual’s identity that in one way or another might have contributed to the existence of criminal actions. In general, individual’s personality is a primary aspect to most professionals specialising in the field of crime. The practitioners are required of them to develop skills and knowledge as well as the apt to dig deep into one’s identity which further assist in drawing conclusions on the probable cause of crime. A number of scholarly writings and research affirm that how a person identifies himself or herself or is seen by others in regard to the self-image, the body image, and the ideal-self explain a lot the reason for the existence or non-existence of a crime. Moral behaviours and actions are not only context specific but also they are formed by social identities occupying a crucial role in a particular circumstance.

In addition, it is evident individual identity affecting the existence of crime shifts from in and out of anti-social behaviour and non-conforming behaviour as well. The identity of a person tends to be affected by the social group that an individual relates him or herself with. In this regard, we expect that under the influence of the company probably of criminal minds, an individual is likely to have an impact on his/her identity which consequently follows thinking and later manifestation of non-conventional norms. Arguably, identity attached to particular individuals might result in the upholding criminal behaviours by such individuals. What we perceive and what others perceive of us is a significant aspect of understanding the existence of criminal behaviours.

If people perceive of an individual as being anti-social or possessing adverse behaviours that are not in line with the society’s’ way of actions, then such an individual is likely to develop criminal behaviours and attitudes. In addition, if a person thinks of himself as a criminal, then his initial identity is affected thus exhibiting criminal actions. Individual identity is a manifestation of who we really are and what type of behaviours and morals we possess whether determining whether we are morally upright or not. As persons shift from one social context and social identity, then his or her moral behaviour shifts accordingly (Dawes, 1992). For this reason, criminal actions and behaviours are only common in situations whereby criminal identity is salient.


To terminate, the paper aimed at looking how understanding identity help in understanding crime. The research essay puts forth that individuals turn into criminals because of the presence of a criminal identity arising from social comparison or peer groups. The essay provides that, negative social comparisons on persons who have failed in their social roles and have manifested non-conforming behaviours or actions on a personal level, compounded and aggravated by contextual factors including but not limited to presence of criminal peers and family or societal environment can result in the development of negative identity which consequently lead to criminal behaviours or actions.

The essay boils down to previously researched concepts as well as themes and uses a number of theories suggested by various scholars in explaining how identity helps understand crime. Through the integrated use of previous studies, concepts and theories, the research essay suggests or concludes that in order to have a clear and substantial understanding of the crime behaviours; it is of the critical essence to develop a firm understanding of the aspect of identity. In conclusion, the essay, therefore, provides that criminal actions and behaviours are predominantly affected by identity among other factors hence it is arguably in order to examine identity to understand crime.


Boduszek, D., 2010. Underlying Psychological Factors of Criminal Attitudes within Ex-Offender Population. Irish Psychologist, 37(1), p.26

Breakwell, G.M., 2015. Coping with threatened identities (Vol. 5). Psychology Press, New York

Bulten, E., Nijman, H. and Staak, C., 2009. Measuring criminal thinking styles: The construct validity and utility of the PICTS in a Dutch prison sample. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 14(1), pp.35-49

Dawes, A., 1992. Political and moral learning in contexts of political conflict. course The Mental Health of Refugee Children Exposed to Violent Environments, Refugee Studies Programme, University of Oxford, pp.6-10

Egan, V., McMurran, M., Richardson, C. and Blair, M., 2000. Criminal cognitions and personality: What does the PICTS really measure?. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 10(3), pp.170-184

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