Crime and Criminal
Behavior are not simple phenomenon to understand and deal with. In legal terms, crime can be defined as an
intentional act which violates law of a particular society. According to Tappan
(1947), crime can be understood “as an intentional act in violation of the
criminal law committed without defence or excuse and penalized by the state as
a felony or misdemeanour”.
Jerome (1947) has defined crime as
“legally forbidden and intentional action, which has a harmful impact on social
interest, which has a criminal intent and which has legally prescribed
punishment for it”.
characteristics of this definition are as follows:
act is legally forbidden.
act must be intentional.
act should be harmful to society.
There should be a criminal intent.
penalties are prescribed for that particular act.
Crime can also be defined in social or
non-legal terms. It is an
anti-social act or behavior which refers to the more serious habitual actions
that violates personal rights, laws or widely held social norms (Bartol and
Bartol, 2008). According to Alloy et al. (1999), antisocial behavior involves
behavior which violates rights of others and often involves criminal behavior.
Caldwell (1956) has explained it as “those acts or failures to act that are
considered to be so detrimental to the well-being of a society, as judgmental
by its prevailing standards, that action regarding them cannot be interested to
private initiative or haphazard methods but must be taken by an organized
society in accordance with test procedures”.
is an increase in crime rate and prison population in India. The Indian Penal
Code crime rate has increased by 41.7% during the decade 2005-2015 from 165.3
in the year 2005 to 234.2 in the year 2015. It has increased by 14.7% during
the year 2015 as compared to average (during 2010-2014). India’s total prison
population has continued to grow since the year 2000 and by 2015 it was 420,000
making India as fifth largest prison population in the world (Jacobson et al.,
Across much of the world, recent decades
have seen rapid and unrelenting growth in the use of imprisonment as a response
to crime and social disorder. It has been suggested that over 10 million people
are imprisoned worldwide. This number includes both those who have been
sentenced to imprisonment following conviction of a crime and those who are
being held in custody prior to trial or sentencing (Coyle et al., 2016).
crime rate and prison population has sought the attention of the professionals
to understand, explain and manage the phenomenon in the best way. The
professionals who deal with such phenomenon are from different disciplines such
as Biology, Sociology, Psychology and more specifically Criminology.
increase in offenders makes us question that where is the individual lacking.
Is it the environmental factors that have led him to such a level or is it the
inborn traits of aggression that drives him to this level of criminality. There
are many theoretical perspectives that explain the phenomena of criminality.
Criminal behavior can be said to be the
result of biological defects in the person, like defects at genetic,
chromosomal, neuro-chemical or at brain level. Professionals from Sociology
provide their greater insight to the world of criminology and criminal justice
in understanding criminal behavior. According to them, criminal behavior
results from faulty social system, social organization and structure. The
discipline of Psychology contributes to the world of criminology by putting
their emphasis on psychological phenomenon which is mainly the cause for crime
and criminal behavior including faulty learning and understanding of the world.
Several theories are the basis of socio-cognitive approach to criminal
behavior. This approach to criminal behavior holds that criminality is learnt
at a cognitive level through association and observing the behavior of others.
Once the behavior is learnt, it may be reinforced and/or punished by its
Association Theory (Sutherland, 1939) is
of the view that criminal behavior
is learnt. Individuals learn criminal behavior by taking part in close groups
of which criminality has become a norm. It has been stated that criminal skills
are acquired along with the attitudes and beliefs which are responsible for
criminal behavior. The feeling of group identities and belongingness are also
acquired. Learning of criminal behavior occurs within primary groups which are
family, friends, peers, etc. Criminal behavior involves learning the techniques
of offending as well as the motives, drives, beliefs, attitude and
(1973b) concepts of observational learning or modelling in the social learning
processes are an important phenomenon which suggests that individual may
acquire ways of doing something simply by watching others. Individual do not
simply copy the exact behavior of models but they construct their perceptions
of reality in a selective and unique way.
et al. (2006) defined social-cognition
as the study of how people form inferences from the social information in the
environment. According to Higgins (2000), social-cognition is the study of how people make sense of other people
and themselves, that is, learning about what matters in the social world.
Social-cognition can be defined as a
process by which we interpret, analyze, remember and use information about the
social world (Baron et al., 2008). In this study, two aspects of social
cognition are studied: Empathy and
Sociomoral Reasoning. These two aspects are crucial in our study as they
are concerned with moral development and prosocial behavior in an individual.
is another important socio-cognitive
variable which plays a vital role in understanding and prediction of human
behavior. Dictionary, defines empathy as “the capacity of understanding, being
aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings,
thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having
the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively
explicit manner”. Eisenberg and Strayer (1987) defined empathy as sharing
another’s emotional state or context. Empathic reactions require an
interpretation of the emotions appropriately in others.
can be defined as a competence of moral judgment and it is a process of judging
which action is morally right or wrong (Rest et al., 2000). According to Leman
(2001), moral reasoning can be understood as one’s ability to make ethical
choices when a moral dilemma is encountered and it is the ability to articulate
reasons for choices that are made. Moral judgment involves moral beliefs and
agreements in making concrete moral decisions. Moral reasoning primarily
regards the structure underlying these arguments or the pattern along which
concrete arguments are produced (Leman, 2001). Sociomoral reasoning can be
understood as the process through which an individual determines right from
Need of the current work is to find out how these socio-cognitive variables differ in offenders as well as non-offenders.
It is important to understand whether the processing of cognitions is different
in offenders or is it the same for both the groups.
will have lower levels of empathy as compared to non-offenders.
will have low sociomoral reasoning as compared to non-offenders.
present study is carried out on the sample of offenders and non-offenders. The
sample of 60 under-trial offenders
is taken from District Court, Amritsar who were being tried on a range of
offences such as theft, fraud, snatching and drug related criminal activities.
The age range of offenders is from 18
to 50 years, minimum education of 5th grade. The sample of 60 non-offenders included graduate
and post graduate students. It also included working population like gardeners, sweepers and ground men.
They were having similar educational qualification and were matched on socio
economic statuses. In this study only the males were utilized because female
sample was not cooperative and was unavailable.
Reflection Measure – Short Form (SRM-SF)- Gibbs, Basinger and Fuller, (1992)
Reactivity Index (IRI)- Mark Davis (1980)
is used in this study to find differences in both the groups of offenders and
The variables of Empathy have
insignificant differences between offenders and non-offenders.
Perspective Taking and Fantasy are cognitive
aspects while Empathic Concern and Emotional Distress are the emotional aspects of empathy. However,
all the four dimensions are insignificant. As the hypothesis was made that offenders
will have lower score on each of the variables of empathy as compared to non- offenders but the findings revealed that
there are insignificant group differences on the dimensions of empathy. Offenders’
mean scores is bit higher on perspective taking and personal distress of the
empathy subscales where as non- offenders
scored higher on fantasy and empathic concern subscale of this particular
empathy scale. This results shows that offenders are good in taking and considering
the perspective of others during exchanging and sharing their point of view as
compared to non- offenders.
have also been shown to feel distress while seeing or observing the pain in
have been shown to be good in fantasy means perceiving and imagining the
character and situation well depicted in story, book, movies etc., as compared
While taking the point of empathic concern, non- offenders
are shown to have the warmth, support and kindness toward the person who is in
the pain or trouble as compared to offenders. These differences are however
can be commented here that the sample that we have taken is of offenders
who are not involving in heinous crimes but are engaged in thefts and robbery,
etc. These people may have some level of empathy in them but are living in such
dire circumstances that they get involved in criminal activities. The
environment they belong to, their role models, their thinking patterns and
their moral development are perhaps from the many factors that have driven them
to these criminal activities. They do feel distressed when they see themselves
or others in pain and probably in order to overcome these feelings of distress,
they involve themselves in offending behaviors.
differences are observed between offenders and non-offenders on sociomoral reasoning ( t (58) = 6.86
p<0.01) . The results indicate that mean score is higher for non-offenders =298.53) as compared to offenders (=255.88). Therefore, it clearly reflects that non-offenders possess more mature sociomoral reasoning than offenders. This result is in line with the hypothesis framed Moral developmental theory viewed sociomoral reasoning as an aspect of social-cognition that is linked to delinquent behavior, with delinquents showing lower levels of reasoning than their non-delinquent peers (Blasi, 1980; Nelson et al., 1990). Cognitive developmental theory suggests that mature-level sociomoral reasoning can provide a protective factor, or buffer against antisocial and violent criminal behavior. The converse of the delay hypothesis is that mature-level reasoning could act as a buffer against antisocial influences. The buffer represented the characteristics of mature-level reasoning, empathic concern for others and the ability to understand the implications of one's actions for others (Jennings et al., 1983). Moral reasoning refers to the cognitive and emotional processes occurring within a person when they are attempting to determine whether or not an event is morally 'right or wrong'. Moral reasoning refers to how individuals reason and justify their behavior with respect to moral issues. It involves making judgments in situations of moral conflict. Within the moral reasoning theory framework, offending behavior is seen as a result of sociomoral development delay beyond childhood, accompanied by an egocentric bias. The secondary cognitive distortions then allow individuals to disengage from taking responsibility for their behavior on a moral level. Aggression and a lack of empathy may become associated with deficiencies in moral reasoning later in life. Moral reasoning is heavily dependent on concern for the distress of others and on role-taking skills (Kohlberg and Diessner, 1991). Poor moral reasoning may influence social information processing through cognitive distortions such as non-veridical attitudes about goals, motivations and behavior (Gibbs, 1993). Individuals with poor moral reasoning are not able to understand moral issues and are not able to understand the perspective of others. In conclusion, it can be suggested that the moral values and ethics are so depleted in our society that it brings forth criminal behavior. Individuals may be educated but still resort to criminal activities of theft or robbery because the moral values are no longer strong enough inside them. Therefore, moral development in children is very important. Our upbringing has to be of such a level that moral lessons are inculcated in children right from the start. These lessons should even become part of the curriculum. School environment should ensure that morality is discussed and workshops are conducted to explain to children the differences between right and wrong. This research adds to our knowledge by showing that immature moral reasoning is one reason for offenders to indulge in offending behavior. Empathy is another sociocognitive variable which can enhance a sound development in individuals. However, insignificant differences also suggest that even normal population is not that empathic. The trend today that exists shows that individuals in general lack empathy. They don't want to involve themselves in the situations or problems of others. They want to stay aloof and disinterested in the lives of others. That is why we have a society where personal harm has become common and prosocial and empathic behavior has risen. A change is required at the grassroot level. Parenting has to be made more effective and the role of school to enhance empathy and moral reasoning has to be highlighted. Peer interactions can also be made more positive and value creating.