Yochelson, S. and Samenow, S. (1976): A Study of Thinking Patterns in Criminals

Yochelson, S. and Samenow, S. (1976) – ‘A Study of Thinking Patterns in Criminals




This is the first study we will be looking at from ‘Cognition‘ and ‘Turning to Crime’. From your OCR A2 G543 Psychology exam. It is further categorised into ‘Criminal thinking patterns.’

There are two background studies to Yochelson and Samenow (1976):

  • Cornish & Clark (1987)
  • Hollin (2001)

Cornish & Clark (1987)

State that criminal behaviour is the result of a rational thinking process, criminals have reasoned and thought about their crimes prior to committing them, often making a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the crime is worth committing based upon the potential rewards and the risks involved.

Hollin (2001)

In a somewhat antithetical motion to Cornish & Clark, Hollin (2001) suggests that criminal behaviour is linked to opportunity and cites the example that the rates of burglary have risen over the last 20 years as more people are going to work and leaving their houses empty.

Yochelson and Samenow were both psychiatrists who worked in a mental hospital.


To investigate whether criminals cognition differs to that of non-criminals.


255 criminals.

Half of which had pleaded ‘not guilty’ by reason of insanity.

However, only 30 completed all the interviews.


The experimenters used a longitudinal study, which lasted over 14 years, during their time working in a mental hospital.

They used interviews based on psychoanalytical postulates, they wanted to find the root cause of criminal behaviour.  They used Freudian therapy to study the changes in cognition over the years.


52 different thinking errors were identified.

The 52 were categorised in to 3 main categories:

  • Crime-related thinking errors
  • Automatic thinking errors – for example a lack of empathy
  • Criminal thinking patterns – for example the need for power and control

Criminals are for the most part in complete control of their life, any criminal behaviour is a result of choices made by the individual. Criminals typically have a distorted self-image and deny any responsibility for their actions.


As the study had a high rate of subject attrition, low validity (due to interviewing techniques) and as the study is lacking a control group, it cannot be considered particularly useful, nor is the sample generalisable to the wider criminal population. The use of this study is to allude to the potential of cognitive behavioural therapy in treating the criminal mind.

This study is focused upon the psychodynamic perspective, it neglects to consider any other factors and can therefore be considered reductionist.

As the study is longitudinal, the replicability is low and the costs of the study are higher than those of a snapshot study.

– Usefulness – the study is not very useful in showing us how criminals develop, nor does it show use how to prevent criminal behaviour before a crime is committed. Furthermore even though the results of the study suggest that it may be possible to heal criminals (9 criminals were considered healed) there was only a very small number of criminals that were considered healed.

– Temporal Validity – the researchers used Freudian techniques, which today are largely out of use due to their unscientific nature. Therefore we can argue that the results of this study are not generalisable to the present day.

Audio Podcast


Further Reading


Article Name
Yochelson, S. and Samenow, S. (1976) Criminal Thinking Patterns
How do criminals think? Is criminal cognition different to non-criminals? G543 Revision.