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Common Traits of a Criminal's Mind

For centuries, criminologists have studied those who commit crimes and tried to find a common factor in all criminals.  Until recent years, when studies of the brain have helped identify certain traits, it was close to impossible to identify traits common in every type of criminal.  It has been possible, since the onset of criminal profiling, to identify such things as what type of person commits a rape or what the typical serial killer is likely to be like.  This was, however, limited to those who commit certain types of crimes, not criminals in general.

Brain scans

The more we learn about the brain, the more traits we are able to find in the criminal mind.  Scans have shown that there are two main areas of the brain that can contribute to criminal behavior when they are abnormal, the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortexBrain scans show that these sections show less activity in criminals, depending on whether the person is a psychopath or not.

The amygdala

This part of the brain is the emotional center of humans.  In brain scans of psychotic killers, there is little to no activity present in this part of the brain.  It is for this reason that serial killers can kill without remorse.  Moral decision making also takes part in this part of the brain.  This abnormality in the amygdala is found only in those who are psychotic and feel no remorse for their crimes.  In actuality, these people rarely see themselves as committing crimes; they consider it getting rid of something in the way of gaining what they want.  This is not, however, the typical criminal.

Pre-frontal Cortex

The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps regulate the most basic functioning of human behavior.  When there is little activity in this portion of the brain, some common traits emerge:

*Inability to control anger and rage

*No impulsive control

*No sense of responsibility


*Poor social skills

*Poor problem-solving skills

*Risk takers

These are the common traits in most criminals, whether they are burglars, rapists or white-collar criminals.  The traits will appear in varying amounts in each person, but they are all there to some extent. 

Outward signs

We don't carry portable MRI machines with us, so what other things can we look for in a person likely to be a criminal? The three biggest traits that people with a masters degree in criminal justice learn about are feelings of alienation, lack of social closeness and risk taking.

*Feelings of alienation - Criminals often have a sense of not truly belonging to society, or even to the smaller groups of neighborhood and family.  This feeling of being an outsider may cause some to believe they are above the law and not subject to the same rules as the rest of society.

*Lack of social closeness - Somewhere in their history, the criminal failed to learn how to connect with other humans on an emotional level.  Without the social closeness of love and security, they feel they can have what they want and believe the only way to get what they want is to take it.

*Risk-taking - The thrill of being able to do something outside the law, and get away with it produces adrenaline in many criminals.  They often take greater and greater chances until they are caught.  The greater the danger, the more thrill they gain.


We may never be able to completely predict who will turn to a life of crime.  With modern advances in science and the ability to share information throughout the world, however, we gain a better picture every day.