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Psychiatry, psychology, and crime: historical and current aspects

Brown, Jennifer ORCID: 0000-0002-6395-0244 (2016) Psychiatry, psychology, and crime: historical and current aspects. In: Huebner, Beth M., (ed.) Oxford Bibliographies in Criminology. Oxford University Press, New York, USA.

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Identification Number: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396607-0170


Psychiatry and psychology can explain crime, account for criminal behavior, and treat the criminal. Historically psychiatry and psychology have been intertwined with the development of law. Medicine, and its later subdiscipline, psychiatry, was particularly involved in helping to advance the concepts of guilty intentions (mens rea) and responsibility for the criminal act itself (actus reus), thereby refining the insanity and diminished responsibility defenses. As knowledge developed and the law became more sophisticated, distinctions were made between those criminals with a mental illness or those who were born with a mental impairment (now termed “learning disability”). Psychology, in particular through its work on personality disorder, introduced the idea that psychopathic behaviors that were aggressive or seriously antisocial while carried out rationally nonetheless contributed to diminished responsibility. Dominant among the preoccupations of psychiatry has been diagnosing and classifying mental illness while psychology has a wider brief, engaging in aspects of the investigation and prosecution of crime as well as searching for causes and treating offenders. The questions for psychiatry have centered on how mental incapacities come about (organically, genetically, constitutionally, dispositionally) and how to assess or measure their symptoms to help decide whether an individual acted rationally or irrationally in order to determine what to do with them (imprison or hospitalize). As medical experts, psychiatrists have assisted the courts where the insanity defense has been argued. In terms of treatments, should such a defense prevail, early interventions were segregation from other prisoners, physical restraint. Later, surgical treatments and the inducing of shock prevailed, while in the 20th century the discovery of psychotropic drugs served as a great breakthrough. Psychology emerged from a philosophical tradition likewise in the 19th century. Psychologists have only lately been employed to provide expert evidence in the courts. As psychology’s focus is more toward behavior and personality (and also deals with non-mentally disordered offenders), their role in courts often have to do with competency assessments while interventions tended to be designed to improve reasoning, social skills, or adjustments in thinking in order to facilitate re-incorporation into society. Psychologists also were instrumental in developing psychometric and other measures to predict risk of future criminal behaviors or recidivism. Both psychiatry and psychology have broader remits than purely an interest in crime, thus the term “forensic,” meaning “of the courts” identifies that particular concern such that forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology have developed as specialisms within their parent disciplines. A theme of this bibliography is to reflect the differences in approach between psychiatry and psychology. In doing so reference will be made to pioneers, key cases, and also the role played by institutions, notably Bedlam, the York Retreat, and Broadmoor, in the development of theory and practice.

Item Type: Book Section
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2016 Oxford University Press
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2015 14:26
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2021 23:05

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