8 Cognitive Characteristics of Career Criminals
Professor Thomas Fagan of Nova Southeastern University gave a fascinating presentation to our chapter of Mystery Writers of America at lunch on Saturday.
He presented eight cognitive characteristics of career criminals—eight thinking errors that direct their behavior. In general career criminals are irresponsible, impulsive, self-centered, pleasure-seeking and free of negative controlling emotions like fear and guilt. They have poor interpersonal relationships—as soon as the other person stops meeting the criminal’s needs, the criminal leaves the relationship. Their drug of choice is usually a stimulant (because they are bored and need distraction) or enough alcohol to enable them to overcome their inhibitions.
1. Mollification: a tendency to rationalize, to deny harm to others and divert blame by questioning the motives of others. “The security guard knew his job was dangerous and he shouldn’t have drawn his gun. I wouldn’t have shot him if he hadn’t.”
2. Cutoff: the career criminal quickly stops evaluating the outcome of his behavior. “What the hell, I’m already here at the bank, I might as well go through with the robbery.”
3. Entitlement: They have the right to do what they want because it’s all about them. He told a story about a criminal whose mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and who asked for a phone call to her. But instead of anything sympathetic, he asked “Where’s the check you usually send me?”
4. Power Orientation: the tendency to only look at others and situations as the strong versus the weak. If you are perceived as weak, the criminal will seek to exploit you—even if you are trying to be helpful.
5. Sentimentality: They see themselves in a positive light because they feel sentimental about some things, like children and small animals. “I’m a good person because I donate to charity, or take care of a dog.” This is also why pedophiles are the lowest in the pecking order in prison, because the other inmates are sentimental about children.
6. Super Optimism: The belief that they are invincible. They have a fantasy belief that they won’t get caught. It’s the Achilles heel of career criminals, because they operate within patterns that have worked before, even though there is always a threat that they won’t work this time.
7. Cognitive indolence or laziness: Their thinking style takes the path of least resistance. They are lazy and easily bored, and will go outside society’s rules just to do something different. They’re always pushing the limits, and making that one step over the line. This habit begins in childhood, where they are the first to smoke, drink, do drugs or have sex. However, this need to break the rules often declines after age 40, as they settle into a routine.
8. Discontinuity: They are easily distracted by their environment and lose sight of their objectives. Even a criminal who manages to turn his life around during or after prison is still vulnerable to falling into old patterns.