Psychogenic Theories of Crime

The psychogenic theories trace crime to some defect in the personality of the offender or “in the inside of the person”. The psychological theory emphasizes “feeble-mindedness” (low Intelligence Quotient or IQ), the psychiatric theory “mental disorders”, and the psycho-analytical theory “undeveloped ego, or drives and instincts, or guilt-feelings of inferiority complex.”

The psychological approach to the problem of crime causation has been concerned largely with an exploration of the relationship between mental deficiency and crime. Charles Goring (The English Convict, 1919: 269) on the basis of his study of English convicts claimed that there was more ‘weak-mindedness’ in the prison population than in the general population. This led many to assume that mental deficiency was an important cause of crime.

Henry Goddard (Human Efficiency and Levels of Intelligence, 1920: 73) reported results on intelligence tests conducted in 1919 and maintained that the greatest single cause of delinquency and crime was low-grade mentality or feeble-mindedness (or very low IQ). He said that feeble-mindedness was inherited and was very little affected by life events. He emphasised the point that a criminal was not born but made.


But Goddard did not believe that every feeble-minded person was a criminal. He might be a potential criminal but whether he became one would be determined by two factors: his temperament and his environment.

Thus, though feeble-mindedness may be hereditary, criminality is not hereditary. “It is hereditary feeble-mindedness and not hereditary criminality that accounts for the conditions” (Goddard, Feeble-mindedness: Its Causes and Consequences, 1914: 8-9).

The validity of the intelligence test by Goddard has been questioned. Does the test really measure intelligence, or do the cultural factors blur that possibility?

Further, the test did not seem very objective when it is considered that the more skilled the person giving the test, the greater the number of feeble-minded persons (Fink, Causes of Crimes, 1939: 238-39). The results of the test were used to define feeble-mindedness only in terms of the physiological setting, ignoring the sociological one.


The relationship between feeble-mindedness and crime was seriously questioned when intelligence tests were used on army recruits during World War I by L.D. Zeleny (“Feeble-mindedness and Criminal Conduct”, American Journal of Sociology, January 1933: 569).

As many as 47.3 per cent soldiers were found to be below the mental age of 13 and 30.3 per cent below the mental age of 12. These results led even Goddard to conclude that it was absurd to think that one-third of the army recruits were feeble-minded.

In 1928-29, Sutherland (Cf. Kimball Young, Social Attitudes, 1931 357-75) reviewed 350 research reports on intelligence tests, covering little less than two lakh criminals and delinquents, to examine the relationship between crime and mental deficiencies. He discovered that:

(1) Fifty per cent criminals were diagnosed as feeble-minded in the studies conducted between 1910 and 1914 but only about 20 per cent criminals were found feeble-minded in studies in the period between 1925 and 1928.


The drop in the percentage of feeblemindedness was not caused by a change in the phenomenon but rather by changes in methods of testing and in interpreting intelligence tests.

(2) There was a negligible difference in the mental age of criminals and non-criminals.

(3) The discipline among low intelligence prisoners was the same as among high-intelligence prisoners, and

(4) Conformity to parole conditions of the feeble-minded and the ordinary parolees was almost equal.


He, thus, concluded that low intelligence of the feeble-minded was not a significant cause of criminality. These findings, thus, led to the abandonment of the theory of feeble-mindedness as a cause of crime.