Crime and Psychology: Independent or Interrelated?

A crime is defined by various authors in different ways. In the most simple language, it can be said that a crime is an act forbidden under the law. Any act which the law considers harmful for the society is a crime, accompanied by a guilty mind.


Actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea,

A Latin legal maxim defining that for an act to be a crime. There should be both an illegal act (ACTUS REUS) and a guilty mind (MENS REA).

Psychology of a person, on the other hand, is how a person thinks, acts, perceives and processes things. Every human brain is different with different perceptions, behavior, likes, and dislikes. No two brains can be the same, nor can be their psychology.

An average person may ask: Why would anyone even want to commit a crime?

If we divide the reasons for committing a crime on psychological reasons. We can say a person commits a crime in the following scenarios:

1.When he thinks that committing a crime is the only option left with him to survive.
For example, a person hungry from days sees an about to close restaurant, trespasses it and steals food. He thinks that only by stealing and eating he can survive. He commits a crime but what made him do it? The hunger? Or the psychological thought he had when he saw the food that he can not be hungry anymore.

If we analyze his mind in this situation and try to understand what he might be thinking. It can be said that on seeing the food the opportunity cost of getting the food was higher for him. The risk of getting caught.
seemed lesser in front of it.

A fifth of all homeless people have committed a crime to get off the streets. Survey also finds that 28% of rough-sleeping women have taken an ‘unwanted sexual partner’ to find shelter.

In this case also it can be seen that people consider the opportunity cost of a crime to be higher. In the older times people didn’t have a proper house of bricks but they lived same could also be done by these people. But they choose to commit a crime, thinking it is there only way out.

Another case that can be stated in the case of 2nd class student Pradyuman being stabbed to death by an eleventh standard student just to avoid a Parents- Teacher Meeting.

this heinous crime can not be excused by giving it a name of necessity.

In 2016, 465,676 children were reported missing to the authorities. During the same year, there were a total of 647,435 missing people.

There are many causes of kidnapping, among them are unemployment, poverty, religion, political issues, and so on.

The high unemployment rate in many countries has pushed citizens to make money through abduction. The unemployed youth turn to crime to make money. They believe that when they kidnap the rich, they will share in the richness by getting their own cut.

2. The second reason can be the person is psychologically ill.
According to a survey by the WHO, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

These are mostly in the prisoners, approximately 356,000 inmates suffer serious mental illness in jails and state prisons. This is 10 times more than the approximately 35,000 individuals with serious mental illness remaining in state hospitals.

For example, a person commits rape of a 5-year-old girl. What might be the reason for him to commit it? The 5-year-old can definitely not give him sexual pleasures. It was his mind which had a disorder, which made him sexually attracted to children. Such people are called pedophiles, and the disorder is called pedophilia.

There are numerous number of cases to justify this example, the most brutal one being the Kathua Rape case.

Another example which can be considered is of the 11 people, in Delhi’s Burari. They hanged themselves in their own house. the evidence from their house show they were indulged with some black magic. Which was gradually affecting their mind. leading all the family members to hang themselves to death.

3. The third reason may be his background, the society in which he lives, his family.
Ever wondered why there is always an emphasis on a good school? Because every parent wants their child to grow and develop in an environment that would make their child wiser. The society you live in, your school, college, and job affects the way you behave. That’s why most of the people who belong to the army background are disciplined. To what extent, it will affect one, depends on the individual.

If a person has grown in a violent or abusive environment. There is a possibility that it may affect the child’s mind in both a positive and negative manner. It is on the interpretation and learning of the child.

For example, If a child sees his mother being beaten up by his father, which 66% of women experience according to a survey.

There is equal possibility of him turning against violence, he might want to protect his mother or when he grows up, women like her. There is also a possibility, that he might appreciate his father’s act and treat his wife and other women the same way. It is on oneself to decide what is more in him. The love for his mother or the desire for the power his father feels when he hits her.


4. The fourth reason can be physiology. Your hormones, body chemical, and parts affect the person’s behavior. That is why heightened emotions also lead to crime. There can be many psychological reasons for a person to commit a crime; some can be related to their past, some to fear and some to their need. The hormones of a person affect the way we act. Women having mood swings when they are menstruating is a decent example of hormones affecting one’s behavior.

Anger is one such emotion that leads to crime, the famous, Jessica Lal, murder case is a perfect example of it. A lady being shot dead just because she refused to serve drinks, what came over the shooter? what was he thinking? it was clearly anger and rage for how can a lady deny him, which forced him to commit such a crime.

A man who kills his spouse or lover in a jealous rage is, a crime of passion, otherwise known as voluntary manslaughter. In such a case, the rage the man acts upon is rooted in his fear of rejection, abandonment and the betrayal of his lover.

the famous case of Scott Peterson is an example of it, he killed his pregnant wife on the suspicion that she was cheating on him.

Another man who throws acid on a girl because of the rage of being rejected or raping a woman if she rejects him, all these are emotions that lead to crime in one way or the other.

This is not to say that anger resulting from strain always leads one to commit a crime. Obviously, that is not the case. We all get angry from time to time but most of us do not respond to it by committing an act of crime. Some people yell and scream, while others may drink alcohol and get drunk. The stable ones among us simply wait a while and cool off.  

Why people act the way they act?

The prefrontal cortex, this part of the brain is responsible for the way we behave. It is the part of the brain responsible for thinking, doing mental computations, personality expression, social behavior. This part is responsible for our conscious awareness. This part is found less activated in psychopaths. So, they react based on their innate tendencies without filtering it with social norms. Another, thing that is responsible for how you behave is actually not in control of your awareness. That’s subconscious.


There are various reasons for committing a crime and everyone talks about why any of the crime might have been committed but it is also equally important to talk about how these crimes can be prevented.

Firstly, we need to begin from the very roots, i.e the family. If there are proper counseling sessions conducted in the early stages of the school life of a child, it would be easier to identify which child is growing up in what circumstances. In the early ages, children have a very vulnerable mind and it can be molded the way we want. If proper guidance is provided from the very beginning it will help them.

Secondly what can be done is to let children learn from the very beginning what is right and what is wrong according to our legal system.

Considering that many minors are also part of heinous acts. The conviction should not be made just keeping in mind that he is a minor. Our legal system should ensure that the punishment is granted according to the mental age and not according to the physical age.


It is very rare that a criminal realizes what he has done is a crime and even if he realizes, the guilt takes over him, as in case of the main culprit of the Nirbhaya case, the bus driver, Ram Singh, ultimately killed himself, who don’t realize tend to keep on thinking that whatever they did was correct, giving it various names, names of need, name of anger, name of hunger, but is it really these factors which lead to the crime or is it our own self. Our ancestors always believed that both god and devil resided inside us, we just need to choose the correct one.

This study tries to explain that it is just the mind, which makes the person believe, trust what he is doing and is the only option he has, makes him ignore the correct ways and shows the path of crime to survive.