Personality Factors as Predictors for Future Behavior, Outcomes, and Effective Interventions (At the Example of Criminality)


Summary. Developmental psychology aims to predict future behavior and outcomes. Many factors contribute to personality and the manifestation of behavior. These may be of biological, psychological, and social nature. While psychoanalysis sees our moral development as a rather automatic process determined mainly during childhood, Eysenck’s personality traits in interaction with the environment provide for an approach that involves more the possibility of learning. According to his Antisocial Behavior Hypothesis (ASB), individual differences in psychoticism are relevant even for the development of criminal thinking. Psychoticism is a trait that represents a continuum from aggressiveness and divergent thinking at the one end, and empathy and caution at the other. The materialization of criminal thinking, however, depends heavily on the social environment, why prisons may be rather ineffective environments for social rehabilitation of criminals. 

Individually Different Learning Responses

The goal of developmental personality psychology is to find answers to what personality trait tendencies can predict what kind of behavior [1]. Both the biological and social components are essential in Eysenck’s biosocial theories. For example, it could be confirmed that the interaction between testosterone with genetic, psychological and social factors is influencing behavior [2]. Similarly, the significantly biologically based personality traits are not necessarily directly determining behavior, but they are interacting according to their tendency with the (social) environment through learning processes [3]. Although adolescence is considered a naturally critical transition phase, the changes may be attenuated by learning and decisions to take, like, for example, what to do after school, which directions to choose for privately, educationally, and professionally [4].

The Morality Hypothesis

Eysenck’s personality traits do not only provide insight into a current state, but rather are seen as precursors of future behavior and consequences [5]. One approach related to personal development is called the morality hypothesis, in which Eysenck explained well-behavior with the formation of conscience that is depending on the presence of relatively low levels of Extraversion and Neuroticism as favorable for being inhibitive enough to develop a conscience [5]. Freud’s theory about the superego allows less optimism about the learning ability of the human mind, as the moral instance of the super-ego is functioning automatically, directed by a psychic force established during childhood [6].

Antisocial Behavior Hypothesis (ASB)

Eysenck’s theory describing the interplay between personality temperament and socialization to predict future (problematic) conduct is referred to the Antisocial Behavioral Hypothesis (ASB) [9]. Analysis revealed that antisocial behavior stemmed from high scores in primarily Psychoticism and secondarily Neuroticism trait scales [7]. The role of Psychoticism for preceding antisocial behavior was also confirmed [1], who concluded with recommending the targeting of reducing the psychoticism tendency in interventions targeting anti-social adolescents. A group of researchers provide a convincing application case of the finding that personality traits alone are not the only factor for behavior to emerge [8]. Increased levels of all the dimensions, mostly heightened values in psychoticism though were predictive of criminal thinking. However, the manifestation of criminal thinking was influenced by the social environment. Consequently, it has to be questioned how effective prison environments are in reducing criminal thinking and behavior (i.e., reduction of recidivism rate), as it is a place where criminal identities and thinking is omnipresent and therefore criminal energy is potentially reinforced [8].

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  1. Heaven, P. L., Ciarrochi, J., Leeson, P., & Barkus, E. (2013). Agreeableness, conscientiousness, and psychoticism: Distinctive influences of three personality dimensions in adolescence. British Journal Of Psychology, 104(4), 481-494.
  2. Yildirim, B. O., & Derksen, J. L. (2012). A review on the relationship between testosterone and life-course persistent antisocial behavior. Psychiatry Research, 200(2-3), 984-1010. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2012.07.044
  3. Nora Mary, J., & David B., C. (2002). Inhibition of Antisocial Behavior and Eysenck’s Theory of Conscience. Education And Treatment Of Children, (4), 522.
  4. Ciarrochi, J., & Heaven, P. (2012). Religious Values and the Development of Trait Hope and Self-Esteem in Adolescents. Journal For The Scientific Study Of Religion, 51(4), 676-688.
  5. Center, D. B., Jackson, N., & Kemp, D. (2005). A test of Eysenck’s antisocial behavior hypothesis employing 11–15-year-old students dichotomous for PEN and L. Personality And Individual Differences, 38395-402. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2004.04.017
  6. Levin, C. (2015). Comments on Carveth’s “The Immoral Ego”. Canadian Journal Of Psychoanalysis, 23(1), 240-244.
  7. Kemp, D. E., & Center, D. B. (2003). An investigation of Eysenck’s Antisocial Behavior Hypothesis in general education students and students with behavior disorders. Personality And Individual Differences, 351359-1371. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(02)00355-0
  8. Boduszek, D., Shevlin, M., Adamson, G., & Hyland, P. (2013). Eysenck’s Personality Model and Criminal Thinking Style within a Violent and Nonviolent Offender Sample: Application of Propensity Score Analysis. Deviant Behavior, 34(6), 483-493.
  9. Kemp, D. E., & Center, D. B. (2001). Temperament Based Personality, Socialization, and Behavior in Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders and General Education Students.
  • Interesting data but I have to disagree on some to the theories. Having worked in the field almost 40 years, 29 with criminals there are many pieces missing. Just my opinion however but many classroom academians may disagree with me.

    • Hi. Thanks a lot for your feedback! That is much appreciated. I’d be very happy to learn more about your experience, as indeed, the short essay is only shedding a summary light from the Antisocial Behavior Theory’s (and related authors’) perspective. I tried to elaborate this correctly. However, you may be right in that other important aspects are missing if considering additional angles, theories, and practices too. Thank you!

  • Such an interesting topic, Mathias. I even watch (the better quality) criminal series and read psycho-thriller. In an attempt to grasp were a criminal does,what he does. There are humans who are born with something not quite right in there brain, I believe. I once had a child in the classroom, who enjoyed killing animals and hurting his fellow class-mates. He was raised in a environment, where he didn’t got warm loving attention…still, I believed there was something wrong with him in the core.
    However, up till today, I also believe, these cases are exceptions and the majority of ‘the criminals’ could ‘turn around’. Guidance towards creating a better life for one-self is a way, but at the same time…I also believe in prisons. More and more prisons are setting up programs to help people study, evolve their skills, therapy, etc. I think a good development…

    • Hi, Patty. Thank you very much for your great comment. Research consistently shows how much the environment is influencing us, even regarding criminal activities. I did not come across about a criminal gene or biomarker that is independent of the environment causing such behavior.
      While prisons seem to be a logical solution, I think they are compensating for care not given earlier (as you also pointed out). Maybe money and efforts could be invested more in prevention than in disciplinary measures. Some argue that prisons risk being used for “modern slavery.”

      • Oh, I totally agree on the need to focus more on prevention. To be honest, the first thing that comes to mind is a mandatory parenting class, before you are allowed to bring a child into this world. Yes, schools, governments, etc have important role too, but I believe it starts with the parents (environmental impact).
        Until then, please lets keep the prisons (I don’t want a murderer or rapist run free) and combine them with the activities I described.
        Modern slavery?! Yes, those prisons do exist and there is where the government has a big role, to me. The ridiculous president of the USA pardoning the disgusting ward last week…makes you feel ashamed of our kind, again.

      • The word “mandatory” rarely sounds good to me, but you make an important point with the idea for parental requirements. The environment, stimulation, and affection they provide to (young) children are utterly crucial for the further development throughout the whole life, indeed.

      • Haha, yes, I am a rebel too, when it comes to words as ‘mandatory’…However, something has to change. Preferable sooner, then later. Right?
        In The Netherlands you will get financial support, when you decided to bring a child in the world and raise it. If I remember correctly, that support is given until a child is 23 years old. The least you can do as a parent is teach yourself the basics, especially when parenting doesn’t come/feel naturally.

      • I understand what you mean, and basically agree. However, it would be difficult to implement. How to measure who may be a good parent? It is not only about formal education, but also about personal values, personality based on ‘informal’ experiences. Should somebody with abusive parents be allowed to have children on her/his own as the risk of repeating the vicious cycle is high?

      • Absolutely. I think their ‘background’ could even be a valuable additive to a classroom with future parents. The abused persons themselves get examples of how it could and, to me, should be. Learn about the triggers when to reach out for extra help/guidance. Now. talking of it with you…another reason, why psychology or something similar should be added to the learning material at school. Didn’t you plead for that in an previous post? Maybe, we should add ‘parenting’ to those lessons too?

      • Great, Patty! Yes, you are right. General Psychology is crucial (as I still advocate), and if taught early in school in a relevant and engaging manner, specific subject matters would benefit from individuals increased capacity for self-reliance and -information, rendering the teaching of topics like parenting in minimum more effective and efficient.