Study criminal opportunity instead of criminal personalities
Most criminologists seemed to agree that all that was necessary to explain crime was to explain criminal dispositions, which somehow lead directly to criminal behavior. But scholars do not usually follow slavishly the advice of those coming before them, however eminent. So why did they do this? The answer, once again, comes from social psychologists, such as Nisbett and Ross (1980), who built on Lewin’s work in a series of experiments in the 1970s to describe what they called the “fundamental attribution error”. This is the pervasive human habit of overstating the role of the person and underestimating the role of the situation in explaining people’s behavior.
Ken Pease and Gloria Laycock (2012) have described a pernicious little wrinkle of the error—we do not apply it to our own behavior. As they explain:
“We are happy to acknowledge situational determinants of our own peccadilloes. I am bad tempered because I slept badly. He is bad tempered because he is that sort of person.”