Hero or villain? : criminals' experience of crime
A neglected area of research within criminality has been that of the actual
experience of the offence for the offender. The social science literature contains
only scattered evidence of what it means, feels, sounds or looks like to commit a
particular crime. Katz (1988) in his work Seductions of Crime proposed that
empirical research has to focus on the foreground, rather than the background of
crime and that the emotional significance of crimes needs to be considered more
fully in order to understand the psychological processes that sustain and
This research examines and proposes a model of Criminal Narrative Experience
(CNE) by exploring the emotions that criminals experience and the narrative
roles that they act out across a broad range of crimes. Hypotheses and a series of
questions were derived from the Circumplex of Emotions (Russell, 1997), Frye
(1957), Narrative Theory (McAdams, 1988) and its link with Investigative
Psychology (Canter, 1994).
The analysis was based on 120 cases. Convicted for a variety of crimes,
incarcerated criminals were interviewed and the data were subjected to Smallest
Space Analysis (SSA). Results showed that the emotions reflected the
circumplex structure of emotions postulated by Russell (1997) for non-criminal
experiences. Thus, it was possible to identify four themes in relation to emotions:
Elation. Calm. Distress. and Depression. However, they showed a stronger
distinction between pleasure and displeasure than for the normal range of noncriminal
experiences. with Russell's 'arousal' dimension being less clearly
differentiated. In addition, criminals' emotions were found to be more intense
than these of a "normal" population.
Concerning criminal narrative roles four distinct themes were identified. These
themes are: Adventurer. Professional. Revenger and Victim that reflect Frye's (1957) four story forms (Mythoi): Comedy, Irony, Romance and Tragedy.
Further analysis showed that the emotional experiences are thematically
significantly associated to the narrative roles, a finding that was supported both
by statistical tests and Smallest Space Analysis. When both emotions and
narrative roles were subjected to SSA four themes of Criminal Narrative
Experience (CNE) were identified: Elated Adventurer, Calm Professional,
Distressed Revenger and Depressed Victim from which scales with very high
alpha reliability scores could be derived.
Offenders' criminal history using the 042 Self-Report Offending Questionnaire
(Youngs, 2001) was examined in relation to their Criminal Narrative Experience.
Smallest Space Analysis showed that the d42 offending behaviours could be
differentiated according to four themes: Violence, Dishonesty, Antisocial and
Planning. Statistical tests revealed that the Elated Adventurer theme is
significantly correlated with the offending behaviours of Planning, Dishonest and
Antisocial while the Calm Professional with Planning.
By examining differences between the index cnme and Criminal Narrative
Experience analysis showed that different subsets of crimes were more likely to
be associated with different emotions and narrative roles. The themes that reflect
Criminal Narrative Experience were found to differentiate between different
types of crimes. In broad terms, Elated Adventurer and Calm Professional were
found to be associated with property offences (theft, burglary and robbery) and
be experienced more pleasant than Distressed Revenger and Depressed Victim
that were found to be associated with crimes against the person (sex offences,
violence and murder) and experienced unpleasant.
The implications of these findings for understanding crime on the basis of the
Criminal Narrative Experience (CNE) are discussed. Important future directions
for the study of crime are outlined.