Criminal Profiling- Science or Myth?

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Criminal profiling, also known as criminal psychology, is controversial to it's validity. Criminal profiling is the process of making an assumption about the criminal by looking at the details of the crime scene, the way he/she committed the crime, and possible motives. Shows like criminal minds have made the idea of criminal profiling popular. They portray the process as straight forward that produces accurate details about the suspect. In reality there is no clear cut way to analyze the information about the criminal. This makes criminal profiling more of a guessing game than a science, contrary to common belief. However in 1956 psychiatrist James Brussel came up with a detailed description of the suspect of a bomber: "He would be unmarried, foreign, self-educated, in his 50s, living in Connecticut, paranoid and with a vendetta against Con Edison--the first bomb had targeted the power company's 67th street headquarters." This description turned out to hit the nail right on the head. This makes it more of a science than a guessing game.

Criminal profiling has been extremely helpful and correct in a few instances, but has been wrong quite a few times. The risk of leading an investigation astray is high. For example, Pinizzotto conducted an experiment and found that out of 192 profiles, only 17% were actually helpful to identifying the suspect. This is why criminal profiling is not a hard science and is something to be skeptical of. In a 1990 study published in Law and Human Behavior, profilers trained by the FBI did no better than nonprofilers at identifying some characteristics of a murderer. However they were more correct than any other group for identifying characteristics of a rapist. This contradicting finding creates more of a question of science or myth.

Currently criminal profiling is seen as appropriate for only some types of cases and should be used with caution. Also, it is seen as a last resort and is not used in most cases unless all other options and investigations have given no leads. Future experiments and cases that use criminal profiling will help to clarify the debate.

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Do you think the success in the case of Brussel makes it a science? Couldn't he still be guessing, but happened to guess correctly? Couldn't anyone occasionally be right in their guesses? Link to the source of the studies and other information.

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This page contains a single entry by bauer581 published on November 20, 2011 4:37 PM.

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