Forensic Psychology

The Psychology of Criminal Behavior

What role does intellectual ability play in criminal behavior?

The majority of criminal behavior is related to impulsivity and impulsive aggression, and intellectual ability is strongly related to impulsivity. A large literature shows a strong correlation between antisocial behavior and lowered performance on a range of cognitive tests. In effect, impulsivity means acting without thinking. Therefore, the ability to reason through situations is a critical component of behavioral control. This entails the ability to consider alternative explanations of events and alternative solutions to problems. Most importantly, one must be able to anticipate future consequences. It is worth noting that reduced cognitive abilities are related to behavioral problems, as measured by Hare’s Factor 2.

Less is known about the relationship between cognitive function and the core psychopathic personality traits of Hare’s Factor 1. Certainly there have been very brilliant psychopaths throughout history, and many have risen to positions of great power. Such people are not impulsive and are very capable of planning ahead. Nonetheless, there is some evidence of subtle cognitive abnormalities in psychopaths, specifically with regard to attention. Several studies have revealed over-focused attention in psychopaths; they only attend to their goal and are relatively unresponsive to peripheral information.


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