The Use of Routine Activities Theory and Psychopathy to Explain Criminal Behavior

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2411 |

Pages: 5|

13 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2022

Words: 2411|Pages: 5|13 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2022

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Routine Activities Theory
  3. Motivated Offender & Suitable Targets
    Capable Guardianship
  4. Psychopathy
  5. Discussion & Conclusion


Theories which explore crimes from the perspective of offenders are of crucial importance in the field of criminology. The application of such theories to criminal events helps us identify key contributing factors that can explain the criminal behavior and have significant policy implications. For the theoretical application, criminal scenario#1 has been selected in which the offender was sexually abused as a child, had 50 previous pornography convictions, 8 of these were related to sexually assaulting children and he also pled guilty to sexually assaulting children under the age of 10. The purpose of this paper is to apply Routine Activities theory and Psychopathy to this scenario because these two theories best explain the criminal behavior from environmental and neurobiological perspective. The paper will provide an overview of both of these theories and will focus on main concepts of these theories. Limitations of the two theories and policy implications will be discussed. Finally paper will argue which of these two theories best explain the scenario and how differently these two theories view criminality.

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Routine Activities Theory

Understanding when, where, by who and who was the victim are questions which are important to understanding crime and criminal activities. Routine activities theory developed by Cohen and Felson in 1979 believed that crime and criminal behavior is influenced by daily activities of individuals. According to Routine activities theory, lifestyle or activities of people increase their vulnerability of becoming victims as their routine activities increase their contact with offenders which gives offenders opportunities to commit crimes. In order to understand any crime and criminal behavior, there are three core elements of routine activities theory i.e. motivated or potential offender, a suitable target and absence of capable guardianship. Basically routine activities theory suggests that change in daily activities of an individual influences crime because these three core elements converge in a structural environment at the same space and time. The daily activities of an individual person are carried out in different physical or social setting and each different social setting will have physical facilitators. According to Miller (2013) in addition to the convergence of suitable target and motivated offender in space and time, there are certain situational characteristics in an environment that helps offenders commit acts of disorder. Looking at the given scenario, Mr.M volunteered at school and libraries which are perfect space for him as motivated offender to converge with high volumes of children as his suitable targets. However in terms of committing sexual assault against children, the space was the home of the two boys where he did babysitting. Their father was absent as he went to work so absence of capable guardian. In general terms, routine activities theory seems to provide a fair understanding as to how Mr.M sexually assaulted two children. Mr.M playing part of Santa Claus, volunteering at school and being hired as a babysitter were all physical facilitators in this scenario.

Motivated Offender & Suitable Targets

According to Routine activities theory motivated offenders have criminal tendencies and when these offenders have motivation, they will commit crimes in presence of suitable target and absence of capable guardian (Cohen & Felson, 1979, pp.589-590). This is basically an untested element of the routine activities theory because it does not explain the concept of criminal motivation. This is considered one of the limitation or weakness of this theory. If we look at the scenario#1, using this element of the routine activities theory, we cannot identify any factors that motivated the offender to commit the crime. However if we look at his babysitting job, here we can argue that since motivated offenders have tendencies to commit the crime and are waiting for opportunity, Mr.M being often hired as a baby gave him that opportunity to commit the crime. Potential offender is defined as when opportunity for crime appears, the offender will act on this and crime will be committed whereas motivated offender is defined as those individuals who are actively seeking opportunities to commit the crimes. Routine activities theory does not explain motivation and uses potential and motivated offenders interchangeably although both have different meanings. If we look at this distinction, Mr.M seems to be more of potential offender rather than motivated offender because babysitting job provided him with opportunity to get close to vulnerable children and he committed the crime. Even though routine activities theory does not explain the motivation aspect of the offender, there are offences which can help us see motivators in terms of physical or environmental context for example sex offences. A detailed approach in routine activities theory shows that sex offenders get motivated by other physical motivators like drugs, alcohol or pornography before committing the sex offence (Sasse, 2005, p.549). Here we can argue since child pornographic material was found on Mr.M laptop, this environmental factor may have been the motivator behind his sexual offences.

Suitable targets are generally defined as people or items that are desired, valuable and within easy access (Sasse, 2005, p.553). According to routine activities theory, suitable targets are individuals or items that are valuable, accessible, and visible and can move around in space and time (Tewksbury, 2008, p.79). In our given scenario#1, suitable target for Mr.M were two young boys he was hired to babysit. There are different suitable targets for different types of crimes for instance in case of convenience store robbery, suitable target would be cash register. Similarly, in a sexual offence, suitable targets would include individuals who are vulnerable and accessible by potential sexual offender or a location where multiple vulnerable victims converge in space. Mr.M frequently volunteered at schools, library and was Santa Claus at a children’s party. Schools and libraries are perfect spaces where high volumes of vulnerable children came. This gave Mr.M accessibility and visibility to his suitable targets which were these young children. According to the research, females ranging from 16-64 ages and children aged 9 year or older are suitable targets for sexual offenders. Mr.M had previous 50 convictions in relation with sexual offences so he was a sex offender and to him, these children were easy suitable targets. According to Sasse (2005) most of the environmental factors in children’s life are controlled by adults who can either protect them or expose them to sexual predators. In terms of young children, in their routine activities they are fed, cared for, touched, bathed, dressed, undressed and these activities are all done by adults such as nannies or day care workers or occasional babysitters and this can expose kids to sexual exploitation (Young, 1997, p.286). when Mr.M was asked to babysit, he controlled the environmental factors and used that control to sexually exploit two young boys. Since routine activities of young children are dictated by adults like caregivers, this puts their parents as their capable guardians and provides opportunities to those who are closest to assess whether they are suitable targets and become familiar with their routine activities in order to see at what times capable guardians are absent from environmental or physical setting. Mr.M was able to have access through babysitting to an environment or physical setting i.e. their home where he could see the routine activities of their father as well as sons and realized what time their father is absent in order to commit sexual offence. According to research done using routine activities theory approach, findings revealed that sex offenders look for suitable targets by hanging round places like school or arcades and occupations allowing access to children. This shows that routine activities theory best explains the criminal act of Mr.M as he volunteered at school and worked often as babysitters.

Capable Guardianship

This term can be defined as providing protection to suitable target from offender and studies have shown that absence of capable guardian increases the likelihood of victimization for suitable targets (Hannis, 2015, p.13). In our scenario, there was absence of capable guardianship as two young boys were alone with convicted sex offender with 50 convictions. Capable guardianship is referred to as supervisory position where individuals like parents and teachers can prevent offending however there are many forms of guardianship for instance video surveillance, security system and alarms. In our scenario, father had no surveillance system in place so he could see what was happening. Even in this form, there was a clear absence of guardianship. The supervisory process of guardians are carried out by handlers who have close ties and proximity with offender which can prevent him from committing the crime, place manager who can be property owner or school employee. In terms of handler, Mr.M became estranged from his family and could not hold a stable relationship. This means that Mr.M had no one who could prevent him from committing the crime. Mr.M volunteered at school and libraries but only committed the sexual offence when he was babysitting the boys. This shows that school or libraries had capable guardians or place mangers e.g. teachers or parents, that is why he didn’t commit any sexual offences in these spaces as compared to home where children’s father, a capable guardian was absent. Recently the concept of guardianship was redefined as someone who keeps an eye on the suitable target which can include people passing by, anybody who is assigned to look after a child or property.


Psychopathy basically is a disorder and is defined by Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist which is also known as (PCL-R) and refers to decreased capacity for remorse and behavioral controls (Blair, 2003, p.5). According to Psychopathy theory, offenders with psychopathic traits are emotionally shallow, selfish, insensitive and have lack of remorse . Psychopathic offenders are conning, deceitful and manipulative and incapable of maintaining stable relationships. Another aspect or feature associated with psychopaths is that they are dangerous individuals because they repeatedly victimize their victims, they reoffend faster and they have high recidivism rates as well (Porter, Fairweather, Drugge, Herve, Birt & Boer, 2000, pp.218-219). Looking at Mr.M, he had a likeable personality and remarkable ability to gain trust of people and at the same time he didn’t tell anyone about his sexuality. This implies that Mr.M was manipulative and was smart enough to persuade people to trust him by using deception. From behavioral standpoint, Mr.M criminality can be explained through Psychopathy. As we know he already has 50 previous convictions in relation with child pornography out of which 8 were sexual. This shows his rate of repeat offending i.e. recidivism and a study about rapists and child molesters concluded that Psychopathy is a strong predictive of recidivism. Psychopathic offenders re-offend faster because they are resistant to treatment have no motivation to get better and have high dropout rates from medical treatment programs. Mr.M had more than 50 previous convictions but he was out moving from city to city, this means that he was placed on medical treatment programs as his sentence when he was convicted but the treatments programs must have been on voluntary basis and Mr.M just dropout from treatment. Because of the failure of sex offender treatment programs, Mr.M sexually assault children at the age of 48. Often Psychopathy was confused with antisocial personality disorder but PCL-R allowed researchers to differentiate it by using traits such as emotional detachment, charm manipulativeness, lack of empathy and superficial charm. Mr.M often had relationships with single mothers and played on women ‘sympathies by saying that his wife was killed by a drunk driver. These are all signs of Psychopathy as he used his charm to lure in single mothers so that he could have access to their children and lied about his wife because he lacks empathy. According to Craparo (2013) there have been some studies indicating link between dysfunctional environmental factors such as abuse and neglect and Psychopathy. Porter (1996) indicated that capacity to have empathy is switched off when a child is repeatedly sexually or physically abused for a long period of time. Mr.M as we know was sexually abused for 10 years and left his family in the early 1980s. As a result of this constant abuse, it is possible for a child to become insensitive to pain or anxiety and make him less emotionally responsive than others. There have been detailed studies indicating that individuals with Psychopathy show elevated levels of instrumental aggression i.e. anger intended to achieve a goal and this is caused by dysfunction in ventro-lateral prefrontal cortex. There are few limitations to the approach of Psychopathy. One of these limitations is that there are studies showing that physical and sexual abuse can elevate responsiveness of basic threat circuitry but in psychopaths there is reduced responsiveness which is inconsistent with suggestion that Psychopathy may be caused by early childhood trauma. Similarly some argue that norepinephrine plays a role in pathology of Psychopathy but data from studies is inconclusive. However there are studies proving that dysfunction in amygdala causes Psychopathy and its traits. Another limitation of Psychopathy is that little research has being done and as we mentioned, there are studies that have explained Psychopathy through biological, social and environmental factors including imaging studies of dysfunction in temporal and frontal lobes but still no definitive results have been obtained.

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Discussion & Conclusion

One of the key limitations of Routine activities theory was that it did not discuss the term motivation because it was believed that motivation to commit crime is not relevant but it is the physical or environmental factors that allow an offender to commit a crime. However this theory does a good job in explaining criminal activity that involves direct contact i.e. direct physical contact of offender and victims. Looking at this and our given scenario, routine activities theory does a good job in explaining the criminality. Routine activities theory has been used by researchers to analyze where crime occurs such as hot spot areas and to explain sex crimes. Routine activities theory gave importance to concept of guardianship and argued that absence of capable guardianship increases the likelihood of suitable targets to become victims. On the other hand, Psychopathy has been also researched and provides neurobiological explanation such as dysfunction of amygdala and prefrontal cortex which can explain some of the traits of PCL-R test like absence of nervousness, lack of empathy. Psychopathy also explains behaviors like untruthfulness, good intelligence, charm, failure to follow any life plan and insincerity. Routine activities theory view criminality from physical and environmental perspective whereas Psychopathy views criminality from neurobiological and brain dysfunction perspective. In terms of scenario, I think considering limitations and explanations of both the theories, Routine activities theory does a better job than Psychopathy.

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The Use Of Routine Activities Theory And Psychopathy To Explain Criminal Behavior. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
“The Use Of Routine Activities Theory And Psychopathy To Explain Criminal Behavior.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2022,
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