Criminal Thinking/Personality Theory Critique and challenge 

This page will eventually be a well organized narrative summary of the major categories of criticism  of Samenow and Yochelson’s Criminal Personality Theory research and publications with examples and citations of most significant reviews and contrary research findings.

For now it is just a minimally organized listing of what I turn up in my research with minimal to no summarizing or commentary other than in  heading copy.

A devastating early academic review: The Criminal Personality: Exceptions to the Rule: A Review of The Criminal Personality, Volume I: A Profile for Change by Richard A. Dienstbier

In attempting to show that more traditional ways of understanding criminal development are insufficient, the authors do not present arguments that are logically compelling or well documented with data. In addition, they are not able to develop any convincing theoretical alternatives to those traditional accounts.

The authors mistakenly search for ultimate causal variables to account for their clients’ criminality. Thus they reject any variable demonstrated by other research to have some causal relationship with criminal behavior if they can argue that it does not invariably lead to criminal behavior (emphasis added here and throughout). Broken homes, for example, are dismissed as an important cause of criminality since some siblings are not turned to crime by this background variable. Unfortunately for their argument, the authors’ denial of the relevance of such factors as broken homes, disadvantaged economic circumstances, and bizarre socialization techniques by parents is not based upon evidence presented in numerical form or upon contrasts with any comparison group; nor do they consider the possibility that such factors might interact to cause criminal behavior. Instead, the authors merely ask the reader to accept their conclusion that most of their criminal clients came from homes with some caring adults, that they were socialized in normal ways, etc. Alongside the illogicality of discounting the impact of social, physical, and psychological variables simply because such variables are not perfect independent predictors of criminality, the authors compound the problem by an insufficient review of relevant literature  (Dienstbier,  1977 p.  211-212).

In attempting to demonstrate the superiority of understanding the criminal through an analysis of the criminal’s thinking patterns, the authors present no theory or evidence to explain why such patterns emerge….In attempting to formulate abstractions about “thinking errors,” the authors present evidence in the form of their own notes from interactions with their clients. This is a very limited form of evidence, since the authors do not discuss in detail the degree to which their own emerging theory may have disposed them to see confirmation of their theory in their subjective data; nor are they prone to present numbers. (Dienstbier,  1977 p.  2013).

A placeholder listing from an  undocumented and badly written but reasonably comprehensive overview of Criminal Thinking Theory, Yochelson and Samenow: What Makes a Criminal?

(I am researching to determine a source for each of the following claims. Emphasis added throughout.)

They began their study with 240 male patients who were being treated at St. Elizabeths and had come from a variety of backgrounds. The patients were “hardened criminals” and had committed thousands of crimes in their lifetimes, according to the psychologists.

Contemporaneous reviews of Yochelson and Samenow’s publication tended to focus on the shortcomings of their methodology…the experimental design… had serious flaws.

First of all, the researchers did not include a control group

…the attrition that occurred over the fourteen-year period left so few patients that subsequent researchers had to wonder if any results…held ….for the population as a whole.

….the researchers…offered neither logical arguments nor data to support their decision to reject sociological and biological explanations for criminal behavior.

Clarke, Marcus. Psysci. (undated) “Yochelson and Samenow: What Makes a Criminal?” [Blog post] Retrieved from

Walters’ four criticisms:  

Walters criticized Yochelson and Samenow’s conceptualization of criminal thinking errors identifying, 1) insufficient operationalization, 2) difficulty of empirical evaluation, 3) lack of generalizability and applicability, and 4) lack of recognition of environmental influences on erroneous thinking as specific weaknesses of their theory.  (enumeration added)

(Mandracchia et al. / INMATE THINKING PATTERNS, p. 1031. CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, Vol. 34 No. 8, August 2007 1029-1043 DOI: 10.1177/0093854807301788–citation copied –minimal to no editing for APA formatting.)