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Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency
Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency

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2.1 Personality/family factors

Figure 1 Hans Eysenck

Hans Eysenck was a psychologist who was interested in studying what made people different from one another, such as personality.

Activity 3

What is personality? Think of five words that describe you (not your appearance). For example, are you talkative, shy, and so on? Do you think you could have used those words to describe yourself ten years ago, or in ten years’ time?

Now think of a family member or close friend and think of five words that describe them. Do you have any characteristics in common or are they all different?


Personality has been described as a set of fairly stable characteristics that makes a person unique, but also allows for comparison with other individuals. Social scientists have been interested in the study of personality for many years, and numerous personality theories have been developed to try and explain why people behave in a certain way.

Many people frequently make judgements about other people’s personalities, for example when telling a story, a person may be described as ‘outgoing’, ‘reserved’ or ‘argumentative’. Sometimes a person’s personality and how they react to a situation can be the driving force of an interesting tale. Therefore, maybe it is not unreasonable to suggest that some people’s personality may make them more likely to behave in a deviant way, or commit crimes, as compared to other people.

Eysenck was one of the first researchers to develop a theory linking personality to deviant or criminal behaviour. In Eysenck’s (1947) theory, he suggested that personality could be reduced to two dimensions, sometimes simply referred to as ‘E’ and ‘N’:

  • extraversion (E)
  • neuroticism (N).

These factors could be measured using a self-report questionnaire that required people to simply answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a series of questions contained in the Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) (Eysenck and Eysenck, 1968). People who scored high on the E scale were classed as extravert and were lively, sociable, thrill seeking and impulsive. Those who scored low on the E scale were classified as introvert, and were quiet, retiring and may like books more than people. On the N scale, those who score more highly may be anxious, depressed and preoccupied that things may go wrong. Those who had low scores on the N scale were relaxed, recovered quickly after an emotional upset and were generally unworried.