Eysenck's Theory of Personality

Why a person may commit a crime is debatable. Whilst some abhor the idea of being involved in criminal activities, others seemingly don't care. There is a somewhat clear divide throughout society between those who live a life of crime and those who tend to stay away from it. Eysenck's theory of personality meant that he was one of the first psychologists to examine why this may be the case by linking personality and criminal behaviour. 

Eysenck's Theory of Personality Eysenck's Theory of Personality

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Contents
Table of contents
    • First, we will go over Eysenck's personality theory explanation.
    • Then, we will explore Eysenck's theory of personality and crime.
    • Next, we will briefly look at Eysenck's criminal personality test.
    • After, we will discuss Eysenck's biological theory of personality.
    • Finally, the advantages of Eysenck's personality theory will be mentioned in an evaluation of his theory.

    Eysenck's Personality Theory Explanation

    Eysenck's theory of personality is a halfway house between biological and psychological theories of explanations of crime. Though his theory of criminal personality would be appropriately classified as psychological, he argues that all personality types have biological bases.

    Here are some key terms that will help you when reading this article:

    Psychological explanations shift the focus from biological causes of crime to social and psychological influences.

    These can include dysfunctional learning environments, the impact of the family, cognitive factors and personality. In addition, a person with a criminal personality cannot be conditioned easily, are cold and unfeeling, and is likely to engage in offending behaviour.

    The criminal personality refers to an individual's character with high scores of extraversion (E), neuroticism (N), and psychoticism (P), key components of Eysenck's theory of personality.

    Eysenck's Theory of Personality, a white man wearing a black hooded jacket is holding a white cover-all face mask with only the eyes cut out, the background is all black, StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - A criminal personality on Eysenck's scale includes high ratings in extraversion (E), neuroticism (N), and psychoticism (P).

    Eysenck's Theory of Personality and Crime

    In 1964, Eysenck proposed that personality can be divided into two core dimensions. These dimensions took the form of a scale and comprised introversion/extraversion (E) and stability/neuroticism (N).

    Where a person landed on this scale determines their personality type. In other words, a person may skew more towards an introverted personality type on the scale between introversion and extraversion, and vice versa.

    In the 1970s, he added a third dimension: psychoticism (P). These three components were established as the 'Super Traits'.

    Extraversion

    According to Eysenck, extraversion is partly to do with specific systems within the brain, more notably, the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS). This system is inherited, and those who are extraverted tend to have a less sensitive ARAS (the biological aspect of personality).

    Extraverts are sociable; they crave excitement and get bored quickly. They tend to be carefree, optimistic, and impulsive risk-takers.

    Extraverts seek more stimulation to reach higher levels of stimulation that satisfies them. The core aspect of this is impulsivity in extroverts. This lack of conditioning of their conscience and drive to seek highly stimulating situations may lead to criminal behaviours.

    Introversion

    According to Eysenck, introversion is due to a highly sensitive ARAS. An environment that is abundant in sensation and stimulation tends to be shunned by those who are introverted, quieter, and more reserved. As the ARAS is highly sensitive, it is easily aroused; thus, these environments tend to be overwhelming.

    Introverts lie on the other end of the scale. They tend to be quiet and reserved, preferring to avoid chaotic or high-energy scenarios. They are less impulsive and tend to be more reliable and calm.

    Neuroticism

    Eysenck specifically believed neuroticism was related to the limbic system within the brain and how easily overwhelmed it is. Those with limbic systems overwhelmed by stressful situations tend to skew more towards the neurotic side on the scale of neuroticism.

    When an emotionally stable person is confronted with a stressful situation, they can react more reasonably.

    Neuroticism: Those on the higher end of neuroticism are more anxious and restless, and those on the lower end are more calm and reliable, possibly due to the state of the sympathetic nervous system.

    Those who skew more towards the neurotic side tend to act more unstable and react quickly to stress; they have a more emotional drive, resulting in more antisocial behaviours. When exposed to stimuli that can be deemed stressful, neurotic individuals respond emotionally by being more anxious than usual, being quick to worry, and displaying high levels of irritability.

    Psychoticism

    This trait has been related to high levels of testosterone. When testosterone levels are high, it is likely that levels of psychoticism will also be high.

    Psychoticism: a high score in psychoticism implies a lack of empathy. These individuals are usually cruel, are loners, and may even be aggressive and troublesome.

    A lack of empathy can result in antisocial behaviours, which leads to potential criminal behaviours.

    What is the Personality of a Criminal?

    The criminal personality type is neurotic and extroverted (a combination of all the above characteristics). They also score highly on psychoticism (i.e., cold, unemotional and prone to aggression).

    Eysenck believed that neuroticism was a good indicator of delinquent behaviours in older people, and extraversion was a good indicator of delinquent behaviours in younger people. Overall, psychoticism is a good indicator/predictor of criminal behaviour.

    Eysenck's Criminal Personality Test

    Eysenck came up with his Eysenck Personality Inventory/Questionnaire (EPI/EPQ), which measures personalities, and places individuals along the E and N dimensions. He added another scale to measure psychoticism (P) later on.

    The original had 57 questions options, requiring yes or no answers. There are now short versions of the questionnaire (with 48 questions) and long versions of the questionnaire (100 questions).

    An example question is, Are you carefree? or Do you like going out?

    As previously mentioned, a high score on neuroticism, extroversion, and psychoticism is what Eysenck believed to be the personality type of a criminal.

    Different versions of Eysenck's criminal personality test are also available online, all requiring similar responses to determine personality type that involves a response on a Likert Scale from 1-5.

    Examples of responses include I am very energetic, and I am quiet around others.

    Eysenck's Biological Theory of Personality

    Eysenck claims that all our personality traits come from our nervous system. Therefore, personalities (including criminal personalities) have an innate biological basis, lending credit to Eysenck's theories, as one of the biggest struggles in psychology was establishing itself as a creditable science.

    If personalities have a biological basis, they can be scientifically and empirically investigated.

    Eysenck's theory of personality, a black background with white specs of circles surrounding a white DNA strand, StudySmarter.Fig 2. - Eysenck suggested our genetics influences our personalities.

    Eysenck suggested a genetic predisposition in people that determines their personality type. How these genes are expressed also depends on the environment, hence his theory's psychological and biological basis.

    This theory brings a lot of issues into question, primarily the argument of whether or not it is the criminal's fault for their behaviour.

    When we suggest that our biological makeup is the reason behind our decisions and actions, we take away a degree of responsibility from it. Eysenck's theory also questions if it is ethical to prosecute someone if they are helpless but to obey or fall victim to their biological drives.

    A criminal can argue that it wasn't their fault that they committed a crime in a court of law, as their genes are the reason behind their behaviours.

    Advantages of Eysenck's Personality Theory

    We need to evaluate the different aspects of Eysenck's theory of personality, to assess the reliability and validity of the theory.

    Advantages of Eysenck's Personality Theory

    One of the major advantages of Eysenck's personality theory is that it takes a combined approach to explaining personality and crime, considering both psychological and biological factors. It can be scientifically tested, as we mentioned above.

    Consider the study by Sybil Eysenck and Hans Eysenck (1977).

    • They compared 2070 male prisoners with high EPI scores with 2442 male controls, divided between subgroups of ages ranging from 16 to 69 years old.
    • Upon analysing the results, they found that criminals scored higher than controls over all ages on measures of psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism.

    However, David Farrington et al. (1982) reviewed this and found that though criminals scored highly on P, there was no evidence of high scores for E and N. There is also very little evidence of differences in EEG measures (which measure cortical arousal) between extroverts and introverts, making us doubt Eysenck's theory's psychological basis.

    Weaknesses

    Do we believe in a single criminal type? There have been many doubts about this; for example, in 1993, Terrie Moffit came up with several types of offenders based on their first crime and how long their offending persisted. Eysenck's theory also doesn't go into enough detail.

    In 1990, Digman proposed his Five-Factor Model, which suggests five dimensions. He suggested openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, along with extraversion and neuroticism (OCEAN).

    According to Digman, people lie along the scale between two ends of the dimensions for each factor of personality. So, someone can be highly agreeable and open but have low neuroticism.

    Cultural Differences

    When Curt Bartol and Howard Holanchock studied six groups (grouped based on criminal history) of Hispanic and African-American prisoners in 1979 in New York, they found that all six groups were less extroverted than the control group.

    They suggested this was due to the cultural differences between this group and Eysenck's, which questions the generalisability of the criminal personality.

    Eysenck's theory seems only to apply to the culture in which he identified the results, and they do not extend beyond that.

    Can we Measure Personality?

    Personality is a complex area of study, and the scale provides an infinite amount of scores that are hard to quantify and reduce into core personality types. Can we conclusively say there are the big five personality types when a person may score highly in one aspect and low in another, and these scores may differ, even very slightly, from one another?

    Consider this; there are 8×1067ways to shuffle a deck of 52 cards. So, there are more ways to shuffle and produce a combination of a deck of cards than there are atoms on earth. Although this is not necessarily the same, can we not argue that many, many combinations of different personality types can suffer from the same combination of issues?

    How can we quantify and combine these personality types into a few specific parameters to assign people?

    It may not be possible to reduce personality in these groups, as suggested by Eysenck, even when applied on a scale (which adds a degree of manoeuvrability, admittedly). Also, Mischel (1988) argued that personality could be context-dependent. A person may change and react/behave differently depending on the situation they have found themselves in, so these parameters personality psychologists have attempted to establish are not stable entities.

    Lack of Reliability and Oversimplification

    Eysenck's theory of personality relies primarily on self-report measures, which are subject to social desirability bias, lack of honesty and introspection, and a lack of self-awareness. Thus, the theory lacks reliability. It also has issues with the parameters to which we classify criminals, as other theories imply there are more factors to a personality (Five-factor model).

    Eysenck's theory of personality, a man in a blue long sleeved shirt is writing on a piece of paper with a blue and silver pen, StudySmarter.Fig. 3 - Self-report measures may be subject to social desirability bias, lying to make themselves appear better.


    Eysenck's Theory of Personality - Key takeaways

    • Eysenck's theory adopts both a biological and psychological approach to explaining personality and crime.
    • Eysenck's theory considers three aspects of personality: extraversion (E), neuroticism (N) and psychoticism (P). Psychoticism was added later. These dimensions took the form of a scale.
    • The criminal personality type is neurotic and extroverted. They also score highly on psychoticism (i.e., cold, unemotional and prone to aggression).
    • Eysenck's theory can be criticised for not being detailed enough in its evaluation of personality traits and for being measured inaccurately due to reliance on self-report measures, resulting in a lack of reliability (reliance on self-report measures).
    • However, as it considers multiple approaches (biological and psychological), it has been particularly influential in the scientific community.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Eysenck's Theory of Personality

    What is a narcissistic personality disorder?

    A narcissistic personality disorder is where someone has an inflated idea of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.

    What are the 3 traits of Hans Eysenck's theory of criminality?

    Extraversion (E), neuroticism (N), and psychoticism (P).

    What are the 4 personality theories?

    They are called the Psychoanalytic Perspective, Trait Perspective, Humanistic Perspective, and Social Cognitive Perspective.

    What is Eysenck's theory of personality?

    Eysenck argued that the criminal personality is one high in extravertism, neuroticism and psychoticism.

    What is one strength of Eysenck's theory of crime?

    It acknowledges the influences of both genetic (biological) factors, and psychological (environmental) factors.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Select the following statement that is true:

    Which year did Eysenck come up with his theory of criminal behavior?

    True or False: According to Eysenck, extraversion is partly to do with specific systems within the brain, more notably, the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS). 

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