In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Personality and Trait Theories of Crime

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Criticisms of Personality and Trait-Based Theories of Crime

Criminology Personality and Trait Theories of Crime
John Paul Wright, Kristan Moore
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0100


Personality reflects the totality of a human being’s beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and ways of interacting with the social world (see Walsh and Ellis 2007 under Introductory Works). Personality is the sum total of all human characteristics that make the individual unique among individuals. Human personality is composed of an array of traits, or discrete human characteristics. These traits can vary across human beings and will coalesce within some humans to form recognizable behavioral and cognitive orientations or patterns. These orientations, what we call “personality,” can be highly stable over time. Owing to the overlap between traits and the broader constellation of personality, it is sometimes difficult to clearly identify a criminological theory as either a trait or personality theory. Because of this, trait and personality perspectives have been brought under an even larger theoretical umbrella of individual differences. Human beings vary on almost every measureable characteristic. Some individuals seek out and engage in risky behaviors, while others are shy and withdrawn; some are caring and nurturing, while others are hostile and aggressive.

Introductory Works

Scholars have realized that some, but not all, individual differences are overrepresented in criminal populations (Andrews and Bonta 2010). For example, individuals who are impulsive, daring, and aggressive are found more frequently in criminal populations than are individuals who delay gratification, are cautious, and are sensitive to the needs and wants of others (Walsh and Ellis 2007).

  • Andrews, Don A., and James Bonta. 2010. Antisocial personality pattern. In The psychology of criminal conduct. By Don A. Andrews and James Bonta, 193–223. New Providence, NJ: Matthew Bender.

    Covers both personality models as well as a number of the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s (DSM’s) criteria for Personality Disorders related to criminal behavior. Best for those readers who already have an understanding of psychology.

  • Walsh, Anthony, and Lee Ellis. 2007. Psychosocial theories: Individual traits and criminal behavior. In Criminology: An interdisciplinary approach. By Anthony Walsh and Lee Ellis, 169–198. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    An introductory text that provides a thorough overview of the psychology of crime. In addition to covering material relating to personality and temperament, also discusses the role of intelligence and biology. Ideal for both undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of their current level of knowledge of the material.

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