By C J Oakes, May 11, 2017
Criminal behavior is human behavior. The only difference between the two is that studies of human behavior are more generalized while studies of criminal behavior consider only the aberrant nature of what we do.
In this article, a brief discussion of the history of psychology lays a foundation for a new way of looking at human (including criminal) behavior.
A Quick History of Human Behavior Philosophy
Freud proposed that human (and criminal) behavior is driven by the Id, the Ego, and the SuperEgo. His idea was simply that the Id is governed by instinct, the SuperEgo is our conscience, and the Ego is the rational bridge between the two. Although most modern psychologists largely discard his philosophy, there could be some validity to it.
Not long after Freud, Carl Jung proposed that through a process he called “individualism,” the mind is a system that is constantly striving for “balance between opposing qualities while constantly striving for growth.” There is certainly validity in this.
Not long after, Ivan Pavlov proved that creatures become conditioned by their environment and this classical conditioning can control behavior. B.F. Skinner later added the idea of operant conditioning which states that behavior can be altered in steps with the careful use of positive and negative reinforcements. He also invented the Skinner Box which continues to be used in behavior research.
Finally, Abraham Maslow added philosophies which, although not proven empirically, continue to be used in Sales, Marketing, and Advertising industries to good effect. Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs which states that human behavior is driven by need. These needs form a pyramid with basic, physiological needs forming the base and higher-order or “self-actualizing” needs capping the top. He proposed that humans must satisfy the lower order needs if they are to progress to the top of the hierarchy, the pinnacle of human achievement.
Human Behavior: Between the Start and Now
From the beginning, those who would research human behavior (psychology) have sought to understand a simple question: Why do we do what we do?
There can be no more basic question than that. Yet, it is a question which continues to elude most in the field of Psychology. Why?
One noted Psychologist of the 20th Century proposed that Psychologists were the modern equivalent of ancient Priests. Dr. William Schultz often noted, to the angst of his contemporaries, that psychology has a secret language, keeps followers returning week after week without providing a cure, and does so for an exorbitant price…just like Priests of old.
Another, Dr. William Glasser who founded the Glasser Institute, suggested that psychology largely misses the point of therapy, namely, helping the patient. He developed a concept he called Choice Theory and a process he termed Reality Therapy in which he successfully treated patients without the use of drugs, including persons with Schizophrenia.
In addition, there have been hundreds of other researchers who have added small elements of proven fact within their theories. These facts have led to both advances in the field as well as confusion among many.
Looking at psychological research from Freud to today, one sees a mosaic of fact and supposition. The image seems obscure and unknowable. However, if one steps back, way back, one can see that the image is clear–each researcher has added elements to the image at close range while never seeing the entire work.
A New Way of Looking at Human Behavior: From a Distance
This theory of human (and criminal) behavior which is now to be described is nothing new. Instead, it is a compilation of theories and laws developed from the days of Freud to now. It encompasses multiple disciplines, not just psychology. It seeks to look at the big picture, rather than microscopic views.
The following is an overview of this new way of looking at human behavior. In the pages to follow, the elements of each part of this theory will be examined more fully, but this should suffice to provide an overview, the big picture.
This Theory of All Behavior explains why everyone makes certain choices, even when these choices appear unusual, aberrant, or even insane. Indeed, all human behavior becomes clear when one understands why. Several premises form the basis for the theory as follows:
- All human behavior is based on the fulfillment of some need (which may be called a Motivator).
- All human behavior is rational to the person conducting the action.
- Sanity is a state of equilibrium between needs fulfillment and values.
- Insanity is merely a state of mental confusion that occurs when a person either
- a) fails to meet all their needs,
- b) attempts to meet needs in a manner contradictory to their own values, or
- c) does not have a clear set of values.
- Needs have three facets:
- Needs have four forms:
- Spiritual or Transcendent
- The combination of the forms and facets create 12 specific needs or motivators of all human behavior.
- Needs are motivating factors in human behavior.
- Motivators (needs) function in both positive and negative ways to drive behavior.
- Filling needs is always shaped by a person’s unique set of values.
- Values develop by means of six systems. These are:
- Collective or Emotional
- Sensory Experience
- All humans use differing combinations of values systems to determine their unique set of values or beliefs.
- Aberrant behavior is nothing more than a clash of values.
- Values, once strongly entrenched, often through some form of conditioning, are not easily overturned.
The following chart provides a general understanding of this theory.
It is through our desire to fill these needs that we act. Action is behavior. So behavior is shaped by what we need.
For instance, if we are hungry, our body craves food. This is clearly a physical need, but how we choose to satisfy that need depends on a number of factors such as our income and our social status. Yet, these are just ways of saying that our choice of food will be shaped by how we see ourselves. If we believe ourselves to be wealthy when we are not, our personal identity, that is, our view of self as wealthy will impel us to seek foods we associate with wealth. This choice allows us to conform to our sense of identity.
In another situation, food could only serve to satisfy our sense of security. In which case a person may choose food that makes them feel safe, whatever that may be. Too, some may choose only to take in food which serves the purpose of recharging their body; possibly eating only fruits, nuts, berries, and vegetables. In this case, food would serve as a stimulus to the body.
The Application of this New Way of Looking at Human Behavior to Criminal Justice
When people enter the criminal justice arena, they have done so because of their actions. Their actions are simply choices of behavior made in the pursuit of needs. The choices are clearly not the acceptable options according to social standards, but they are still choices. The goal is the same whether the action is lawful or not: To meet some need.
When developing rehabilitative programs in the criminal justice system, it should be kept in mind that no person will change their behavior unless they are compelled, persuaded that the choices they made were not the best for meeting their needs.
For instance, if a child grew up with a parent that relied on theft and graft to support the family, that may be all the child knows. On reaching adulthood, they may only comprehend that the way to get what you want is to either take it or hustle it from another. They may have no conception of earning a living, perhaps even viewing it as a suckers way of life. Even if caught, they are then taken to a correctional facility where they are given food, clothing, and shelter. If they were poor on the outside of prison, they may view this as a reward. This, according to Skinner, would then reinforce the behavior which landed them in prison. Good luck convincing them otherwise.
This new way of looking at human behavior recognizes these facts and seeks ways to counter the faulty values people develop over time. It is no magic solution to developing rehab programs that work but will allow those designing such programs to counter the long-term effects of deep-seated values which shape choices.
It also provides a way to teach people how to meet their needs in the best possible way.
For instance, the following chart depicts the same range of needs as the previous chart but with a difference. In this one, the needs are divided according to their positive and negative impact on individuals.
Consider the person who has developed a serious drug habit. What need could this habit possibly fill? The answer to that depends on which stage of the addiction the person has entered.
- If they are in the early stages, they may be using regularly as a means of acceptance by their peers. This provides them with an Emotional Identity, as fitting in.
- Or, they could be using because of boredom. In this case, they could be filling a need for Physical Stimulus, a way of ‘blowing off steam’ as it were.
- At a point, the addiction begins to fill other needs. For example, drugs like Cocaine and alcohol provide a user with a sense of power. If a person feels powerless in their life, their mind and brain will collude against them to make them believe that the substance gives them control, which fills an Emotional need for Personal Security. Ironically, just the opposite is the case and people with habits like this soon learn they are less secure.
- At another point in the addiction, a person reaches a point of despair. Note that despair is a negative motivator associated with a need for Stimulus. The opposite is Hope, which is what happens in the case of many hardened drug abusers. The enter what has been termed the Addiction Cycle which relies on despair and hopes to drive the addict to continually experience mood swings amid a frantic struggle to break away from the drug while constantly seeking it.
In fact, drugs can provide for a range of needs by humans, which explains the appeal. But substances eventually cause the abuser to face the negative elements associated with the needs, but to a heightened effect.
One Final Element for a Broad Understanding of this New Way of Looking at Human Behavior is Needed: Values
We all develop values, beliefs based on ideas we believe will allow us to best meet our needs. Some examples of values include:
- It’s a dog eat dog world
- Honesty is the best policy
- Stealing is ok
- Killing is wrong
- Killing is part of life
- Life is cheap
- The earth is round
- The earth is flat
- People are dishonest
- People are stupid
- People are sheep
- Politicians are dishonest
- Government is necessary
- The government is not to be trusted
- Drugs are bad
- Drugs are fun
- Sex is good
- Sex is only for procreation
- Sex is disgusting
- Pick something…
In other words, there are as many values as there are people in the world, more even. Values shape our world, our lives, and our choices. If we are hungry, our choice of how to obtain food, regardless of whether we have the money to make a purchase, will be shaped by our values. If we believe that stealing is ok when we are hungry, we will have no difficulty stealing food whether we can afford to buy it or not. Conversely, if we believe that stealing is always wrong, no matter how hungry we get, we are not likely to steal food.
Contrary values account as well for the many conflicts we see taking place in politics, relationships, and criminal justice. Some people believe that responses to crime should be harsh while others believe a more compassionate approach is needed. In all instances, personal values will shape the direction of the laws related to any element of criminal and social justice.
Six Values Systems Shape Human Behavior
As will be explored more fully in later pages, there are six methods humans use to determine their values. These are:
|Value System||How Developed||Examples|
|Collective||Develop according to Emotional ties to Family, Co-workers, Clubs, Gangs, and other Groups.||Listening to what Nationalities, Religions, Social Clubs, Gangs, Organized Crime Families, Police Fraternities, Political Factions, Bowling Leagues, Board Members, Elite Business Clubs, Exclusive Memberships, etc. have to say regarding beliefs.|
|Authoritative||Develop according to the tenets Of a particular Authority, such as A Minister, Guru, or other Expert.||Following the beliefs of Religious Figures, Politicians, Noted Scientists, Authors, Celebrities, Famous Psychologists, etc.|
|Scientific||Develop according to personal Scientific examination & testing.||Testing colors using a prism, Observing an experiment, participating in a study, dropping an apple, etc.|
|Logical||Develop according to personal Reasoning and logical thought.||Philosophers & Individuals who use logical arguments to decide facts/beliefs.|
|Sense Experience||Develop according to that which Is personally experienced through The five senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste.||Experience is said to be the greatest teacher. Those who use what they experience to decide values/beliefs fit into this category.|
This overview should help as readers continue to explore this new way of looking at criminal behavior. You may wish to bookmark this page for easy reference as you read the pages to come.
Continue Reading 2. Understanding the Role of Motive in Human (and Criminal) Behavior