Forensic psychology: Criminal personality profiling

Journal of Police Science & Administration 02/1984; 12(1):32-40.


Describes the process of psychological profiling, which focuses attention on individuals with personality traits that parallel traits of others who have committed similar offenses. Close examination of the crime scene and the extrapolation of certain relevant psychological material leads to a profile. However, not all crime scenes are appropriate for profiling; only where psychopathology is evidenced will the scene lend itself to being profiled. Certain crimes are most appropriate: sadistic torture in sexual assaults, evisceration, postmortem slashings and cuttings, postmortem explorations, motiveless arson, lust and mutilation murders, ritualistic crimes, and rapes. Research has shown that psychological profiling is useful in focusing the investigation properly, helping to locate possible suspects, identifying suspects, and assisting in the prosecution of suspects. Psychological profiling is one investigative tool among many and is not a magical solution, but it is an attempt to use behavioral and psychodynamic principles of psychology in an applied setting. (19 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

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    • "Despite vague assertions of high accuracy rates being commonly made by profilers affirming that they 'have not been wrong yet', no such study has ever been undertaken (Homant & Kennedy, 1998; Muller, 2011). Even the general claim by the FBI that its profiles have an accuracy rate that exceeds 80% appears to be based on little more than unverifiable speculation, as supporting evidence has never been made publicly available (Pinizzotto, 1984; Wilson & Soothill, 1996). There are likely to be many reasons for this dearth of systematic evaluation. "
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    ABSTRACT: Criminal profiling is used in complex investigations, and, in a number of jurisdictions, as expert evidence in criminal trials. This article seeks to move beyond the many anecdotal accounts of success by profilers and examine the evidence available as to the discipline's validity. As it stands, profiling is based on theories that are uncertain at best, and little research has been undertaken to assess the actual accuracy of generated profiles. This absence of validation is in part due to genuine difficulties associated with designing appropriate testing models. It is exacerbated by the reluctance of profilers to engage in such a process, relying instead on the well-rehearsed, yet somewhat circular argument that the continuing demand for profiling advice is in itself reassuring evidence of the method's validity. It is the lack of objective evidence of validity in this area that will be critically considered in this article.
    Preview · Article · Apr 2014 · Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology
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    • "Given this state of affairs, one might wonder why police officers continue to request the assistance of profilers. Whereas some police officers report using CP because they believe that it works (e.g., Copson, 1995; Jackson et al., 1993; Pinizzotto, 1984), there are likely other officers who use CP but do not believe that it works. We suspect that some of these officers might use CP because they believe (or are instructed) that it is their duty to use all available investigative techniques. "
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    ABSTRACT: There is a belief that criminal profilers can predict a criminal's characteristics from crime scene evidence. In this article, the authors argue that this belief may be an illusion and explain how people may have been misled into believing that criminal profiling (CP) works despite no sound theoretical grounding and no strong empirical support for this possibility. Potentially responsible for this illusory belief is the information that people acquire about CP, which is heavily influenced by anecdotes, repetition of the message that profiling works, the expert profiler label, and a disproportionate emphasis on correct predictions. Also potentially responsible are aspects of information processing such as reasoning errors, creating meaning out of ambiguous information, imitating good ideas, and inferring fact from fiction. The authors conclude that CP should not be used as an investigative tool because it lacks scientific support.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2008 · Criminal Justice and Behavior
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    • "A handful of surveys that have assessed the attitudes towards CP among various police agencies have reported mixed results. Results from FBI profiler John Douglas' survey (seePinizzotto, 1984) indicated that solving the case was attributed to CP advice in 46% of 192 instances where FBI profiling was requested. When survey respondents were asked to indicate the specific type of assistance provided by CP, 77% responded that it 'focused the investigation properly', whereas only 17% of respondents felt that CP 'identified suspect(s)' and 20% responded that it 'helped locate possible suspect(s).' "

    Full-text · Article · Jan 2006
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