The FBI reported that in 2017, violent crimes occurred every 24.6 seconds in the United States, including a murder every 30.5 minutes, a rape every 3.9 minutes, and a robbery every 1.7 minutes. Not to be overlooked are property crimes, which were happening at an astonishingly rapid rate—every 4.1 seconds. 

So, what drives individuals to commit such heinous acts? Is it their upbringing, a mental disorder, or perhaps trauma endured during childhood? 

To gain a deeper understanding of why offenders engage in violent activities, we must look beyond their motivations. Instead, analyzing their psyche becomes key to unlocking what truly motivates them. 

How Is Psychology Related to Criminal Behavior? 

The field of psychology focuses on analyzing the mind and behavior of individuals. Professionals in psychology-related careers, such as forensic psychologists and correctional psychologists, leverage this analytical mindset to make important contributions to the fields of criminology and criminal justice. 

When we examine the behaviors of specific offenders and the underlying motivations that drive their criminal conduct, we move closer to understanding why these crimes occur—and closer to developing early intervention strategies that could help prevent some of these crimes in the future. 

Psychological Factors That Contribute to Criminal Acts 

When someone commits a crime, there’s often one or more psychological factors contributing to their negative behavior. Below, we’ll explore some common psychological elements associated with criminal offenders: 

Personality Disorders 

In 2017, researchers conducted a study involving a random sampling of 228 prisoners, composed of 114 women and 114 men. Among the test subjects, 87.3% of the women and 83.3% of the men had a personality disorder at the time they committed their crime. While numerous personality disorders can impact a person’s likelihood of committing a crime, the following disorders are most often seen in people who’ve committed crimes: 

  • Major Depressive Disorder 
  • Dependent Personality Disorder 
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder 
  • Borderline Personality Disorder 


Is there a direct correlation between childhood trauma and criminal behavior? Studies show that when a child undergoes a life-altering experience, such as physical abuse, neglect, or witnessing the death of a friend or family member at the hands of another, the repercussions can be long-lasting. 

Sometimes, symptoms of trauma such as hostility and paranoid ideation persist into adulthood and can lead victims to engage in criminal activities. The likelihood increases with continued traumas, such as when an adolescent experiences repeat violence in their community. 

Furthermore, the National Institute of Justice states that individuals are more likely to become repeat criminal offenders if they’ve experienced prolonged trauma and have adopted emotional detachment as a coping mechanism. By disconnecting from their emotions, they may be able to intentionally disconnect from the emotional impact of past traumas as well as the feelings associated with committing a crime. 

Substance Abuse and Addiction 

In 2015, there were approximately 1.3 million individuals behind bars in the United States. A significant proportion of that number were serving sentences primarily for non-violent crimes and drug-related offenses. 

So, why are so many people with substance abuse issues getting incarcerated? 

Addiction affects the brain and changes its functionality, causing people to change how they think, perceive the world, and behave. Sometimes a person’s addiction leads them to committing harmful and illegal actions, such as domestic violence and theft. 

Choose Your Adventure: Career Edition 

Psychology and criminal behavior are closely intertwined. Understanding the relationship between the two can help professionals in both fields address, treat, and prevent criminal behavior. The question is, which field interests you professionally? 

At UTPB, we offer an online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and an online Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies, so you can choose the path that aligns with your career goals and personal interests. However, selecting one program doesn’t restrict you from exploring the other. 

Once you’ve chosen the right program for you, consider enhancing your expertise by selecting a minor that complements your major. For example, if you pursue a BA in psychology, you have the option to earn a minor in criminology and criminal justice studies, or vice versa. This flexibility ensures you can tailor your education to meet your unique interests and career objectives. 

Regardless of which path you choose, our programs are entirely online, giving you the flexibility to complete coursework on your schedule. In addition, we offer affordable tuition regardless of your location and provide start dates year-round, so you can begin this next chapter in your life when it’s right for you. 

Not sure where to start? Contact us, and when you’re ready, your application is only a click away.