The Difference Between Criminal Psychology & Criminology


Criminology is the branch of sociology that studies crime and criminals in human society. On the other hand, criminal psychology, also known as forensic psychology, is the branch of psychology that studies the mind and behavior of criminals. While criminal psychology focuses on the individual, the emphasis of criminology is on the criminal's interaction with others in society.

Early Criminal Studies

  • Throughout history, each culture has sought to understand the individual and her relationship to society, including the criminal or adverse elements of society. Plato in the fourth century B.C. described criminals, crimes and their relationship to society in his "Republic and Laws."

Practical Uses

  • Both criminal psychologists and criminologists study criminal behavior, often with an effort to create prevention and rehabilitation systems. For example, the cycle of violence hypothesis states that children who are abused or victims of violence are more likely to become criminal offenders. Efforts such as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or DARE, teach young children how to avoid a life of drugs and crime. Such programs aim to stop the cycle of violence before it starts. Criminal psychologists have an understanding of human behavior and can offer investigators advice to help arrest perpetrators.

Training Requirements

  • Education in criminal psychology comes under a college's psychology department, whereas criminology falls under the sociology department. The curriculum for both criminal psychologists and criminologists may include analyzing case studies, learning research methodology and completing an internship. Degree completion terminates at the graduate or doctorate level for psychologists and at the graduate level for criminologists. Psychologists also need licensing to work a clinical setting.

Career Paths

  • Criminologists work within the criminal justice system as counselors, investigators and law enforcement officers. Criminal psychologists analyze the mind and behavior of criminals, as well as those involved in the criminal justice system, such as juries. They may serve as consultants for law enforcement officers during investigations or for attorneys during jury selection. Criminal psychologists also serve as expert witnesses and provide counseling for offenders.

Making a Choice

  • Students interested in different aspects of the criminal justice system may choose to study criminology. They'll study how criminals, the criminal justice system and society relate. Those whose main interest is the criminals themselves, including counseling and rehabilitation, may choose to study criminal or forensic psychology. Note, however, that many of the of the popular investigative dramas and movies do not accurately portray the criminal justice system and those who work within it.

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