Theories of crime: Links to free full text resources.

Here are some more links to articles and overviews that I think are useful for writers, students and others of you who are interested in criminal behaviour and forensic psychology. As before links to these have been on Twitter at some point but, if you follow, may have passed you by. I hope these are of use and please let me know what other types of information you would like to see up on here!

  1. Excellent lecture notes on biological bases of crime are freely available here:

 2. Explanations of Criminal behaviour. A useful paper on this available here

 3. Very good overview of theories of criminal behaviour available here

 4. Personality and Crime

 5. A Theory Explaining Biological Correlates of Criminality

 6. Genetic and Environmental Influences on Criminal Behavior. Useful paper and responses here

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The Tweeting Police Project: An update and a plea for help.

Firstly, many thanks to all of you for the support that you have shown for this project.  As I wrote recently, the use of social media like Twitter is become more and more prevalent among police, something that is great to see. It helps share information and promotes the fantastic work that they are doing. However it is important to understand, through careful scientific study, how this impacts on fear of crime in people who read it. The assumption is, and this could well prove to be the case, that this information is re-assuring and reduces people’s fear of victimisation. However, research may show that certain individuals find this information increases their anxiety about crime. Alternatively, it may show that certain types of information are more re-assuring than others. Either way, these are the kind of questions that this research is hoping to answer.

At present I am completing work on the questionnaire measures that will be used for this study. It is important that I get these right, and that they capture the sort of information that can help investigate this issue thoroughly. I am working on two questionnaires. The first will be designed for tweeting police and will focus on the use of Twitter and the content of tweets. The second will be for those who follow police and look at their perceptions of these messages, as well as measuring their feelings in relation to their fear of crime and how much they feel at risk of victimisation.

The plan is that these will then go online and people will be able to fill them in anonymously. Before the study commences it will go through a committee to ensure that it fulfils all of the ethical requirements that bind the research that psychologists do. Taking part will be entirely voluntary and there will be no way that individuals can be identified. I will provide more detail and updates about this as soon as I can.

In the meantime, though, I need your help. I have recruited a fair number of police who tweet to follow me on Twitter and therefore be contactable for when the project starts. What I also need, though, is to ask people who follow tweeting police to do the same. I want to try and avoid asking endlessly for re-tweets as I know this can prove annoying and off-putting. What would be brilliant, though, would be if all tweeting police, and even force accounts, could ask if their followers would be willing to follow me and take part in this research. If you aren’t a police officer and are reading this then the same applies, any help at all would be gratefully received.

Building support among the public for this research will be crucial and a tweet from yourselves, or your colleagues, would really help with this. As I mentioned, I truly believe in the value of this research and would be extremely grateful if you could help to spread the word. Please feel free to contact me with comments here, or via Twitter, with any questions you may have on this –  and many thanks again.

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Did we evolve to Tweet? The evolutionary basis of social networking.

 In one of my previous posts I explained why the human brain and Twitter are so well matched. The limits that our brain has to work within in terms of its’ processing power mean that it ‘likes’ information in brief and easily digestible forms. Twitter, and other forms of digital communication such as texting can be seen as fulfilling this need. Perhaps then this is one reason why they have been so widely adopted – it’s easy and it requires little effort.

This popularity is reinforced when you look at some of the amazing statistics on the use of Twitter. While figures vary it is estimated that there are now an average of 1250 tweets per second, a figure that rose to over 12000 during this year’s Superbowl. I think it’s fair to say, we definitely love Twitter.

There is, though, another important reason why we may be so fond of this method of communicating and this is one that is based on evolutionary theory. When I was completing my PhD studies at the University of Liverpool I was lucky enough to work alongside fellow postgraduates studying a broad range of subjects. Many were studying investigative psychology which is why I am so interested in this field today. But among the others were those studying the field of evolutionary psychology under Prof. Robin Dunbar.

 Now at Oxford, Dunbar wrote a fascinating book called “Gossip, Grooming and the Evolution of Language” which has a lot to say about why social networking is so important to us now. Evolutionary psychology is a discipline which essentially looks at the ways in which our behaviour has evolved, both through the study of non-human primates, and the ways we interact today. So what has this all got to do with social networking? Basically, Dunbar argues that among our ancient hominid ancestors, and even before the evolution of language, understanding our position in the group hierarchy was hugely important.

Primates are very social animals and maintaining the relationships between them is, in evolutionary terms, key in allowing a group to co-operate, breed and, essentially, survive. So, information that helps individuals to maintain these relationships is crucial. It helps to detect threats to an individual’s position in the hierarchy also giving them clues as to ways in which they may be able to progress within it. This information and its transmission is, according to Dunbar, the evolutionary basis for gossip.

Before language evolved Dunbar suggests that our hominid ancestors maintained their relationships by grooming each other. As well as keeping themselves clean this allowed them to reinforce their bonds and ‘share’ the fact that they were not of threat to each other. This was a successful strategy, so much so that eventually the size of groups evolved beyond that which allowed enough of this social grooming, and networking, to occur. Another form of communication was needed, something that was just as effective in terms of allowing us to gossip but more quickly and more efficiently. And that method was, of course, language.

Language, argues Dunbar, is therefore all about maintaining social relationships. By gossiping we share the information that is so fundamental to the survival or failure of these relationships. Without co-operation humans would not, arguably, have evolved or survived as a species which is why this information is so important. Essentially, then, Twitter and other social networking gives us a platform through which we can share this ‘gossip’. It also, importantly, changes the whole notion of how big a social network can be – but that’s another story.

Dunbar, R. (2004). Gossip, Grooming and the Evolution of Language. Faber and Faber.

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Free Research Resources: Geographical Profiling & the Spatial Behaviour of Serial Offenders.

Following on from my links last week, here are more full text articles or papers for any writers, police officers, students or other interested parties! I have posted links to these on Twitter before but have had many new followers since and these may have easily been missed. I have divided these into two key areas. Firstly those which give a general overview of geographical profiling and look at the controversies that surround it. The second set look more specifically at the spatial behaviour in serial offences.

As before I hope these are of use. Please share these if you can and let me know what you think of these resources. Many thanks!

Geographical profiling

  1. Short BBC video on mapping crime and geographical profiling, link here:

 2. What is Geographical Profiling? Find a useful and brief overview here:

 3. National Police Improvement Agency on the Geographical Profiler. Overview of use by the police in the UK here:

4. Geographical profiling – the debate continues.

 5. Good info on geographical profiling in this full text paper: Geographic Profiling: The Fast, Frugal, and Accurate Way.

6. A Comparison of the Efficacy of Different Decay Functions in Geographical Profiling for a Sample of US Serial Killers:

 The spatial behaviour of serial offenders

  1. Paper on theories of criminal behaviour that explain spatial choices of serial murderers

2. Paper link: Spatial Patterns of Serial Murder: An analysis of disposal site location choice.

 3. Locations where serial murderers offend may be governed by implicit, if limited, rationality. Full text article here:

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Research in Offender Profiling: Useful Full Text Resources.

 Following on from my post last week, this is the first of a series of posts in which I will share links to research papers and articles. These have all been tweeted before but I am aware that they may be easily missed. The choice of these papers is entirely my own as I feel they give good overviews of the area of offender profiling and should be of use to writers, police and others who wish to research this further.

I have tried to include several critical papers as these show the different debates and arguments that surround this, sometimes controversial, practice. In coming weeks I will also be listing links to research on theories of criminality, the brain an crime, geographical profiling and anything else I think may be of interest. Please feel free to share the link to this and let me know if you think these are useful. I hope that proves the case!

Offender profiling research

  1. Book chapter by David Canter:  Offender Profiling

2.   What are Offender profiling and Investigative Psychology about? An overview from David Canter here:

3.  Profiling homicide offenders: A review of assumptions and theories. A useful source of information here

 4. The Organized/Disorganized Typology of Serial Murder: Myth or Model

5.      Excellent review of research testing foundations of offender profiling: Offender profiling & criminal differentiation

6.       Critiques and Conceptual Dimensions to Criminal Profiling. Useful pdf chapter here:

7.  A Review of the Validity of Criminal Profiling 

8. Link to interesting paper from Homicide Studies journal – Criminal Profiling: Real Science or just Wishful Thinking? 

9. Pragmatic solutions to offender profiling and behavioural investigative advice

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Social Media and Fear of Crime: The Importance of Research in this Area.

 As many readers of this blog, and followers on Twitter, will know I am hoping to study how the sharing of information by police on Twitter impacts on fear of crime in those who read it. Social media has developed with great rapidity over the last few years and has shown huge potential for disseminating information to wide audiences and at great speed. Indeed, the use of Twitter and other media during the riots in August last year was an illustration of how the public can be kept updated of events as they unfold, even when they are unable to view the television or listen to radio.

As I work on developing this research I have received anecdotal evidence from police and public suggesting that people following the police see their tweets as reassuring and they perhaps, therefore, reduce their fear of crime. However research has also suggested that higher levels of information about victims of crime, such as that reported through mass media, can increase the feelings people have about being at risk of victimisation (see e.g., Heath and Gilbert, 1996 for an overview: ). As Heath and Gilbert state, the “charges that the mass media create unwarranted levels of fear of crime are almost as old as the media themselves” (1996: 379). The debate is sure to rage on but, either way, the more research that can be done to input into this debate, the better.

Another reason why it is so important to research this is that the impacts of such fear can be so very debilitating. Although research is never perfect it has shown that between 30 and 50% of the population of England and Wales have worries about falling victim to crime (see e.g., Gray, Jackson, and Farrall, 2008). Psychologists have often shown that low levels of anxiety can actually be a positive thing as it can lead us to be more motivated in terms of taking precautions (Jackson & Gray, 2010). However these worries can become more counter-productive and lead to more negative outcomes

Fear of crime can have negative impacts on individual’s psychological well-being (e.g., Hale, 1996; Jackson & Stafford, 2009) and also impact on the freedom that people perceive they may have in their daily lives or routines. Fear may prevent people from going to certain places at certain time and, in the worst cases, lead to places being labeled as ‘no-go’ areas. This can lead to people moving away and prevent others from visiting, all of which impacts on social cohesion and trust.

So, overall, this is a real and potentially harmful issue. The Police and other agencies do a huge amount of work in actively re-assuring their communities and helping to reduce their fear of crime. Researching the use of social media in furthering these efforts can only, therefore, be an important factor in helping resolve the debate that surrounds this area.

  1. Gray, E., Jackson, J. and Farrall, S. (2008). Reassessing the Fear of Crime. European Journal of Criminology, 5, (3), 363-380.
  2. Hale, C. (1996). Fear of crime: A review of the literature. International Review of Victimology, 4, 79-150.
  3. Jackson, J. & Stafford, M. (2009). Public health and fear of crime: A prospective cohort study. British Journal of Criminology, 49, (6), 832-847
  4. Jackson, J. & Gray, E. (2010). Functional fear and public insecurities about crime. British Journal of Criminology, 50 (1),, 1-21.
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Useful Book Resources in Forensic and Investigative Psychology

Key texts in Forensic and Investigative Psychology.

I am often asked by police officers, authors and other interested parties for links to texts I can recommend in these areas. The list below is by no means exhaustive but each of these texts does, I feel, offer a valuable contribution to the discipline and offer the reader a good insight into the theory, methods and practice applied in this field. I will be posting links to more specialist texts, for example in geographical profiling and offender profiling, in the near future. I will also be setting up pages here with links to all of the abstracts and full papers that I tweet.

 I have given a link to an online seller for each text, not for reasons of endorsement but simply to help you all find them easily. Some of these may seem a little expensive but are often available as used copies online or your library will be able to get hold of them for you. Hope this is of use!

General overviews of Forensic Psychology:

  • Forensic Psychology: A Very Short Introduction. David Canter.

As the title suggests, this is a brief overview of the field.  Great for getting a flavour of the issues covered in forensic psychology.

  • Introduction to Forensic and Criminal Psychology (4th edition). Dennis Howitt.

This is a good overview text which covers the breadth of areas involved in the field of Forensic Psychology:

  • Forensic Psychology. Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions. (2nd edition). Edited by Graham Davies and Anthony Beech.

Only just released and and another comprehensive and up-to-date introduction to forensic psychology:

  • Forensic Psychology: Concepts, Debates and Practice (2nd edition). Edited by Joanna R. Adler.

A good critical overview which aims to hope to inspire and stimulate debate about how forensic psychology can aid the practice of justice:

  • Forensic Psychology. Edited by Davies, Hollin and Bull.

Another recent, clear and accessible overview that the areas by structuring it around crime, criminal investigation, the trial process and after sentencing:

Investigative Psychology texts:

  • Investigative Psychology: Offender Profiling and the Analysis of Criminal Action. Edited by David Canter and Donna Youngs.

An excellent text which covers this area extremely well. This will be of interest to those who want more information on how the analysis that underpins this approach to profiling is carried out as there are lots of examples here:

  • Forensic Psychologists Casebook: Psychological profiling and criminal investigation. Edited by Laurence Alison.

Another ‘must-have’ in my opinion. This book aims to demonstrate how forensic psychology contributes to police investigations, providing practical information about the type of reports provided by psychologists and behavioural advisors. Very good on giving an understanding of the, often misunderstood, area of profiling:

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The Lazy Brain: Cognitive Limitations and Journey to Crime

In my last post I discussed the issue of cognitive limitation, the fact that our brain can only process so much information at once without being overloaded. This means that our brain is ‘miserly’ with it’s processing and uses a number if strategies to help keep it within acceptable limits. Essentially we usually try and do things with the least effort needed. These strategies, or heuristics, have important implications in terms of our behaviour, all of which is essentially driven by our brain. So, if we take this point of view, it can be seen that understanding cognitive limitation can also help us to understand certain aspects of criminal behaviour.

An example of this would be the issue of where criminals choose to commit their offences. Research has shown that even the most serious offences are usually committed surprisingly close to where the offender lives, or is based. Studies have actually shown that the ‘average’ journey to crime is only between 1 and 2 miles. This could be seen in terms of opportunity but, arguably, it still all boils down to limits in cognitive processing. Put simply humans operate best in places they know. Our experience of a location helps us develop a ‘mental map’, something that not only aids us in navigating this space but also reduces the need for cognitive processing.

I’m sure you can relate to the difference you would feel in terms of walking around your home town or finding your way around a strange city. The former is easy and happens without much conscious thought – we take for granted that we know where we are going and get there automatically. Indeed we know that the brain  essentially processes information at two levels, one of which is automatic and other more actively. When we are used to something, or somewhere, cognition moves into automatic mode and saves on the more intensive active processing. This is why a strange city would ‘feel’ more difficult. Our brain is literally unprepared in terms of experience of the place and we have to use a lot more active processing to find our way around.

So psychologically we prefer places that we know, literally speaking those that are within our comfort zone. They are comfortable because they don’t invoke the, usually unpleasant, feelings we get when our brain is overloaded. Individuals who commit crimes are no different from those that don’t in terms of the limits to their cognition. Their brains will do all that they can to avoid overload, which in turn will impact on their behaviour.  Logically one might argue that any criminal would choose to commit their offences a great distance away from where they live to help reduce their chances of capture. The reason most don’t is that it takes too much cognitive effort to understand and ‘learn’ somewhere new and from a psychological point of view it is much ‘easier’ to offend close to home.

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Why our brains love Twitter: Cognition, Heuristics and Social Media

The human brain is undoubtedly an amazing thing. It is capable of organising and processing the almost constant streams of sensory data with which it is faced, whilst simultaneously controlling and maintaining the many functions that our body needs to operate and survive. One of the key roles of the brain is sensemaking. It deals with all the data that is inputted through out senses and gives it meaning, structuring it so that we can understand and make sense of our world. Put simply, without this we just couldn’t function and when this ability is impaired, through illness, injury or self-imposed alteration, the consequences can be shattering.

We are clearly, then, heavily dependant on our brain and this processing that it achieves, which psychologists broadly label as cognition. However, despite this dependence there is one thing that psychological research has clearly shown. This is that our brain has a limited capacity to process information, and cognition is not, therefore, without boundaries. Back in 1956 a psychologist named Miller published one of the most cited papers in our discipline. He not only showed that our processing capacity is limited but also quantified this, suggesting that the maximum number of processes we can simultaneously achieve is 7 (+/- 2). This became known as Miller’s Magic Number.

I’m sure that all of us can relate to these limits in our processing. If we have too much to do at once we may feel stressed and anxious. Overload in cognition is not something that leads, generally, to pleasant feelings and we often therefore engage in behavioural changes or other strategies to deal with this. These range from the social (e.g., trying to associate with people who share our view of the world and therefore challenge us less) to the individual (perhaps ignoring tasks or finding ways of dealing with the feelings that come with overload).

Because our brain has these processing limitations it has to make allowances for this. For example, research has shown that we deal with them by being selective in what we process, only attending to small amounts of information when, for example, we make decisions. We are, as the authors of key research in this area suggested, essentially ‘cognitive misers’ (Fiske & Taylor, 1984) the brain using a range of techniques to reduce processing load. These short cuts are known as heuristics. To put this another way we operate, as  Zipf (1949) suggested, on a principle of least effort. If we can do something as quickly and easily as possible we generally will because this way it limits processing requirements and just feels easier. This all has huge implications for human behaviour, and indeed criminal action, something that I’ll be exploring in future posts.

So how does this fit with Twitter? Well, you could argue that this form of ‘micro-blogging’ is in fact a type of heuristic. The limits on message lengths that Twitter imposes means we have to communicate as briefly and succinctly as possible. I realise that we may often use tweets to link to more detailed information, but that in itself is also a process of simplification. While we may initially find it tricky to be succinct, I would bet that most Twitter users quickly become used to this process and find it both easy and comfortable. Indeed, Twitter really fits with cognition nicely: small chunks of easily processed and shared information. Just what the brain ordered!

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Tweeting Police and Fear of Crime: An introduction to the proposed research.

If you have been kind enough to find this post through a link on Twitter then you will be aware that I am hoping to carry out some research on the use of Twitter by the police and the impact that this may have on fear of crime in the people that follow them. Let me try and explain the reasons for this as briefly as I can…

Many years of research in psychology have shown than us humans are very much driven in our behaviour by what we think and feel. Our attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and feelings are something that we develop over time, and are processes that are very much influenced by the world around us. None of us exist in a bubble and we tend to form our attitudes and beliefs in one of two key ways: either through the direct experience of an event (seeing it happen or it happening to us), or by what we are told. This is somewhat oversimplifying things but the principle holds true.

So for many of us our understanding of something only comes through what we learn through other people or from what we read, and see, in the many forms of media that surround us. One example of this would be what we think about, and feel about, the issue of crime. If we have been unfortunate enough to be a victim of crime then this will clearly impact on what we feel about it. Obviously even among people who have never been victims of crime the generally held view of it is negative. That said, people will still vary in terms of how much they feel at risk of crime and the fear they have of becoming a victim of it.

These variable beliefs and attitudes that people have about crime related issues can, psychologically speaking, impact on their behaviour. They may, for example, make them worried about going to certain places or out at certain times. They will also impact on other thoughts that they have, for example those that relate to their feelings of safety and security, all of which feed into feelings of well-being.

We are also all influenced, to varying degrees, by how much information we receive about a certain issue. Repeated exposure to information can, in certain circumstances, lead us to become de-sensitised to it. Again, I’m over-simplifying here but this can be the case.

So, psychology lesson over. The key issue here is that police officers are increasingly using twitter to share information with other officers and the public. There are two key things that interest me here and that I’d like your help in researching. Firstly how is twitter used by the police? I’d like to ask officers to help me with a questionnaire that will examine the ways this is used and the kinds of information that is shared.

Secondly, how does this impact on the levels of fear, and perceived risk,  of crime in those that read this information. For this I will use another set of measures to examine these factors in people who follow the police on twitter and compare this with others who may not. I realise that this is only one way in which we are exposed to crime information and will designing the study to take these factors into account. Overall I’d like to answer questions such as whether followers feel re-assured by the information they receive or does if it increases their anxiety.

There is still a way to go in terms of getting the project up and running as it is a complex undertaking to do this through the internet. However I am working on online questionnaires that will, hopefully, be ready quite soon and will publish links to these as soon as I can. I will also update progress on here as often as needed!

I hope that this has helped clarify things and that it you are a tweeing police officer, or someone who follows one (or more) that you be willing to take part. Many thanks for reading!

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