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How The Antisocial Personality Traits of Those Diagnosed with Psychopathy Are Conducive to Assault

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Assault is a violent crime defined as applying force to another person without their consent (Criminal Code Act 1899). A combination of social learning, social bonding, and personality theory can be used to explain why some people may commit assault and how to prevent these same individuals from doing so. Social learning theory states that criminal behaviour can be learnt from others, therefore an individual may commit an assault as a result of witnessing another engage in this behaviour. Social bond theory posits that rather than an individual having a specific motivation to commit crime, they instead engage in criminal activity due to an absence of social bonds and therefore an assault may be a result of an absence of deterrent factors. Personality theory considers that people may engage in crime due to a presence of antisocial personality traits. The antisocial personality traits demonstrated by those diagnosed with psychopathy are conducive to assault.

Aker’s social learning theory posits that people engage in criminal behaviour after learning it from others. Social learning theory considers that a person may learn behaviour multiple ways, one of which is imitation and observation; this is when a person observes the actions and consequences of another and proceeds to mimic these behaviours. When criminal behaviour is framed as acceptable or is observed to have little or no consequence, the person witnessing this may later model this behaviour due to the understanding that they themselves are doing something desirable or will face few consequences. This premise was demonstrated in the bobo doll experiment. The study showed that children who had witnessed an adult interact violently with the doll without being reprimanded acted more violently during their own interactions with the doll. In contrast children who had witnessed the violent adult be reprimanded for their actions or had not seen an adult act violently with the doll proceeded to act less violently during their turn. In accordance with this theory a child who witnesses a person instigate assault and sees the action rewarded or ignored, may later model this behaviour. The majority of children who witness assault do so within the context of domestic violence situations, with it being estimated to occur in 1 out of every 10 homes. The underreporting of domestic violence and the difficulty in achieving a conviction may lead children to understand that these actions have few consequences (Mugford 1989). This may lead these individuals to consider violent actions an effective way of achieving their desired outcome. Whilst this explains the actions of a group of offenders, there are also multiple people from households in which domestic abuse occurs who do not exhibit these criminogenic behaviours later in life. Additionally this theory does not account for offenders who engage in violent offending who have not previously witnessed this behaviour. The difference between children who model these behaviours later in life and those who do not may be explained with the assistance of social bonding theory.

Hirchi’s social bonding theory concludes that offenders commit crime due to the absence of strong social bonds, rather than because of a specific motivation, and that all individuals would commit crime in the absence of these bonds. Hirchi claims social bonds consist of four major components; attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Attachment refers to relationships with others and the value placed on their opinions, such as family and friends. Commitment refers to the value an individual places on conventional behaviour, this type of social bond is strengthened by participation in conventional behaviour such as education or employment. Involvement refers to a person’s involvement in common activities, such as recreational sport or study. Belief refers to the value a person places on the shared morals of society, this is normally demonstrated through a belief in the correctness of the law. Hirchi dictates that the stronger each of these bonds are, the higher the likelihood than an individual will maintain social norms, including a lack of participation in criminal activity. According to this theory an offender would commit assault because the absence of strong social bonds means there is no meaningful deterrence. the weakening of each of these social bonds means the offender would have little perceived consequence for any violent action they may take. A person who does not participate in extracurricular activities, lacks employment, and has no close relationships, loses much less than an average citizen if jailed for a violent crime. These factors, in addition to a lack of belief in the law, makes these individuals much more likely to participate in criminal activity. These social bonds may be weaker in domestic violence households as the family dynamic is likely to weaken the relationship between parent and child, there may also be a lack of participation in extracurricular activities as a common abuse tactic prevents bonds external to the family unit. A study conducted in California shows that children with weak parental bonds are also less likely to form strong bonds with their peers. These effects may be further exacerbated if the individual has antisocial personality traits.

Personality theory posits that some people are drawn to criminal activity because they possess personality traits conducive to criminal behaviour. Traits such as narcissism, aggressiveness, impulsivity, and hostility are categorised into disorders such as psychopathy. An individual who displays these traits may be assessed and diagnosed accordingly. People diagnosed with psychopathy display a variety of asocial behaviours such as; a lack of guilt or remorse, aggression, thrill seeking, narcissism, and an inability to form significant emotional bonds. This theory considers that a person diagnosed with psychopathy would commit assault due to disregard for the victim, as a result of their abnormal personality traits. An aggressive disposition, impulsivity, and a lack of guilt would make a psychopath more likely to commit assault as they are more likely to act before fully considering consequence. The inability to form meaningful emotional connections, in addition to their self-centred nature, means the individual is also less likely to be concerned with the consequences their actions may have on the victim. This may be demonstrated by the high percentage of psychopaths in prison for serious crime, of which they make up over 50% of offenders, compared to their much smaller demographic in the regular population. Psychopathy is also likely to exacerbate the effects of social learning and social bonding theory. The presence of asocial traits may assist in explaining the disparity between those who observe aggressive behaviour in the context of domestic violence and later model this behaviour and those who don’t. People who display antisocial personality traits such as a lack of empathy would be less concerned with the impact may have on the victim. Therefore, individuals who display these traits and observe an adult committing assault with no reprimand, are less likely to understand that this behaviour is undesirable and are more likely to model this behaviour later. A psychopath’s inability to form meaningful emotional connections decreases the likelihood that they will form strong social bonds with family or peers. This means those diagnosed with psychopathy are less likely to be impacted by the social controls these bonds provide. Whilst this theory assists in explaining why some individuals may commit assault it does not account for those who are diagnosed with psychopathy who do not engage in criminal activities.

Social learning theory does not exclusively apply to criminal behaviour, the principles of social learning theory may also be applied to pro-social behaviours. This means that whilst social learning theory can be used to explain how people learn criminogenic behaviour, the same concepts may also be used to implement the solution. With this understanding the current practice of putting young offenders in detention centres with other offenders may increase the likelihood of recidivism. Offenders may be able to unlearn criminogenic behaviours if they are placed in environments in which pro social behaviours are demonstrated. This approach may be most effective with young, or first time offenders, whose criminogenic behaviours are likely to be less established than that of repeat offenders. Social bond theory concludes that criminal behaviour is the result of weak social bonds. Therefore, the most effective way to counteract these negative behaviours, according to this theory, is to strengthen these social bonds; this may be done by encouraging positive relationships and participation in prosocial activities. Many of the methods through which social bonds may be strengthened are also likely to provide the situations in which pro social behaviours may be learnt. Engaging in extracurricular activities such as sport is likely to improve both the attachment and involvement aspects of social bonds; as well as providing demonstrations of non-criminal behaviour. Whilst the increased attachment and positive demonstration is likely to improve the behaviour of offenders, it has been shown that increasing involvement may not decrease the likelihood of offending. Another method through which an offender may strengthen social bonds and observe pro social behaviours is through mentorship programs. This would increase attachment as well as provide opportunities to witness pro social behaviour. According to personality theory an individual commits crime because they possess antisocial personality traits that lead them to offend. Therefore, punishing people diagnosed with psychopathy using the regular prison system is likely to prove ineffective as it is not an efficient way to counteract antisocial personality traits. This can be demonstrated using the recidivism rate of psychopaths, which is triple that of non-psychopathic offenders. The actions taken as a result of a person’s asocial personality traits may be better negated with counselling. By providing the offender with coping mechanisms and reasoning skills the offender may be able to function in a way that does not constitute criminal behaviour. This approach may have limited success as the personality traits intrinsic to psychopathy may make individuals resistant to treatment and rehabilitation.

Social learning, social bonding, and personality theory can be considered in conjunction to explain why a group of offenders may commit assault and therefore how these individuals may be prevented from doing so. Using social learning theory to understand how criminal behaviour may be learnt allows counteractive measures to be taken in the form of providing positive modelling opportunities. Social bond theory assists in explaining why these behaviours may only be modelled by some individuals who witness violent behaviour, as well as why those who don’t witness violent behaviour may offend. Personality theory demonstrates how the presence of asocial personality traits may exacerbate the effects of social learning and social bonding theory and increase an individual’s likelihood of offending. Understanding the interconnectedness of these three theories allows for a comprehensive understanding of why some individuals may commit assault and how this group of people may be rehabilitated. 

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How The Antisocial Personality Traits Of Those Diagnosed With Psychopathy Are Conducive To Assault. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from
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