7. Psychological Theories of Crime

Jennifer Mervyn, Ph.D., Registered Psychologist with BC College of Psychologists

Positionality Statement

I am Metis on my father’s side, with my ancestors originating from the Red River area, and European on my mother’s side. I am a mother of three children who are also Cherokee/Muscogee on their father’s side. I am working hard to raise my family with a proud and rich sense of cultural identity, as I believe it is essential to healing from intergenerational trauma. I have worked in a clinical capacity with vulnerable children, youth, adults, and families for over 20 years and supported a number of young people as they have interacted with the criminal justice system. Through this work, I have come to believe that the criminalisation of mental health and addictions only further stigmatises and entrenches our most vulnerable and makes access to healing more difficult for all. My heart and life’s work are centred around promoting trauma-informed policies, principles, and practices across all sectors (healthcare, policing, child services, education) so that we will see healthier individuals, families, and communities that are able to thrive.

Stacy Ashton, M.A., Crisis Centre BC

Positionality Statement

I am a white, cis-gender, middle-class professional who has spent her career in the non-profit sector, including frontline and administrative work in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. I am committed to community-based crisis and mental health response and have recently submitted proposals to BC’s Special Parliamentary Committee on Police Act Reform advocating for a crisis care continuum to drastically reduce the need for police response to mental health crisis situations.


This chapter will begin with the differentiation between individual, evolutionary, and cultural psychology as applied to criminology. We will explore the impact of personality, upbringing, cognition, psychopathology, and trauma on criminal and violent behaviour and go on to explore pathways leading to criminality as well as culturally informed pathways out of criminality. The basic principles behind psychobiosocial integrative models and the theories they incorporate will be outlined as well as their limitations and criticisms. This chapter concludes with identifying trauma-informed approaches to reducing criminality in Canada and provides select examples of excellence in BC.

Introduction: Why do People Break the Law?

Psychology attempts to answer the question “Why do people break the law?” by studying the intricacies of the human mind, including how human minds make sense of their environment and are shaped by evolution, culture, and society. Psychological approaches to explaining criminal behaviour can be differentiated from one another by looking at where theorists and researchers locate the flaw causing criminality. Some look to the individual for causes, while others look to the impact of social and cultural factors. This field of work encompasses many approaches, theories, and directions of inquiry. In this chapter, we will explore how individual psychology, cognitive-behavioural psychology, evolutionary psychology, cultural psychology, and integrative models of criminality answer the questions raised by criminal, or criminalised, behaviour.


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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Shereen Hassan and Dan Lett, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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