Personality Disorder and Criminal Behaviour

What Is the Nature of the Relationship?

Sophie Davison; Aleksandar Janca


Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2012;25(1):39-45. 

In This Article


There is now much evidence that personality disorder is related to offending. The studies above show that some personality disorders other than antisocial are related to particular types of offending behaviour. The studies also demonstrate that, although rates of personality disorder are high in all serious offenders, the role played by personality disorder may be greater in some offences than others: for example, in rapists compared with child molesters, men who kill their fathers rather than their mothers, men who kill their children compared with mothers who kill their children; and in less severe stalking behaviour compared with those who get convictions. These types of studies are only able to show an association between personality disorder and offending but tell us nothing of the causal link. Elucidating the nature of the link is complicated. Any act of criminal behaviour usually arises from a complex interaction between individual predisposing characteristics and a particular set of circumstances, for example, a physical and social context. This is illustrated by the fact that a couple of the studies suggested that, when comorbid axis I and axis II problems such as substance misuse are controlled for, the association between personality disorder and offending or motivation for offending is no longer significant. Thus, it could be that personality disorder is associated with increased substance misuse, and it is substance misuse that leads to offending. The last three articles reviewed are interesting in that they start to suggest a framework for understanding how personality disorder may contribute to criminal behaviour that integrates the personality traits; comorbid problems that are commonly associated with personality disorder such as substance misuse, mood disorders and ADHD symptoms; motivation for offending; maladaptive cognitions; beliefs and attitudes facilitating offending and anger and arousal. These frameworks are helpful when considering risk assessment, risk management and treatment. However, more empirical research is needed to test these hypotheses.


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