Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Eysenck's Theory of Personality

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Eysenck's Theory of Personality

Why a person may commit a crime is debatable. Whilst some abhor the idea of being involved in criminal activities, others seemingly don't care. There is a somewhat clear divide throughout society between those who live a life of crime and those who tend to stay away from it. Eysenck was one of the first psychologists to examine why this may be the case by analysing it through the lens of personality.

Eysenck's theory of personality is a halfway house between biological and psychological theories of explanations of crime. Though his theory of criminal personality would be appropriately classified as psychological, he argues that all personality types have biological bases.

Eysenck's theory of personality explanation

Eysenck's Theory of Personality, different Personality heads switching faces, StudySmarterDifferent personality heads switching faces, flaticon.

Here are some key terms that will help you when reading this article:

Psychological explanations shift the focus from biological causes of crime to social and psychological influences. These can include dysfunctional learning environments, the impact of the family, cognitive factors and personality.

The criminal personality refers to an individual's character with high scores of extraversion (E), neuroticism (N), and psychoticism (P), key components of Eysenck's theory of personality. These individuals cannot be conditioned easily, are cold and unfeeling, and likely engage in offending behaviour.

Eysenck's theory of personality and crime

In 1964, Eysenck proposed that personality can be divided into two core dimensions. These dimensions took the form of a scale and comprised of introversion/extraversion (E) and stability/neuroticism (N). Where a person landed on this scale determined their personality type.

In other words, a person may skew more towards an introverted personality type on the scale between introversion and extraversion, and vice versa.

In the 1970s, he added a third dimension: psychoticism (P). These three components were established as the 'Super Traits'.


Extraverts are sociable; they crave excitement and get bored quickly. They tend to be carefree, optimistic, impulsive risk-takers.

According to Eysenck, this is partly to do with specific systems within the brain, more notably, the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS). This system is inherited, and those who are extraverted tend to have a less sensitive ARAS. Extraverts seek more stimulation to reach higher levels of stimulation that satisfies them.

The core aspect of this is impulsivity in extroverts. This lack of conditioning of their conscience and drive to seek highly stimulating situations may lead to criminal behaviours.


Introverts lie on the other end of this scale. They tend to be quiet and reserved, preferring to avoid chaotic or high energy scenarios. They are less impulsive and tend to be more reliable and calm.

According to Eysenck, introversion is due to a highly sensitive ARAS. An environment that is abundant in sensation and stimulation tends to be shunned by those who are introverted, quieter, and more reserved. As the ARAS is highly sensitive, it is easily aroused; thus, these environments tend to be overwhelming.


Neuroticism: Those on the higher end of neuroticism are more anxious and restless, and those on the other end are more calm and reliable, possibly due to the state of the sympathetic nervous system. When an emotionally stable person is confronted with a stressful situation, they can react more reasonably.

Eysenck specifically believed this was related to the limbic system within the brain and how easily overwhelmed it is. Those with limbic systems overwhelmed by stressful situations tend to skew more towards the neurotic side on the scale of neuroticism.

Those who skew more towards the neurotic side tend to act more unstable and react quickly to stress; they have a more emotional drive, resulting in more antisocial behaviours. When exposed to stimuli that can be deemed stressful, neurotic individuals respond emotionally by being more anxious than usual, being quick to worry, and displaying high levels of irritability.


Psychoticism: a high score in psychoticism implies a lack of empathy. These individuals are usually cruel, are loners, and may even be aggressive and troublesome.

This trait has been related to high levels of testosterone. When testosterone levels are high, it is likely that levels of psychoticism will also be high.

This lack of empathy can result in antisocial behaviours, which leads to potential criminal behaviours.

What is the personality of a criminal?

The criminal personality type is neurotic and extroverted (a combination of all the above characteristics). They also score highly on psychoticism (i.e., cold, unemotional and prone to aggression).

Eysenck believed that neuroticism was a good indicator of delinquent behaviours in older people, and extraversion was a good indicator of delinquent behaviours in younger people. Overall, psychoticism is a good indicator/predictor of criminal behaviour.

Eysenck's biological theory of personality

Eysenck claims that all our personality traits come from our nervous system. Therefore, personalities (including criminal personalities) have an innate biological basis, lending credit to Eysenck's theories, as one of the biggest struggles in psychology was establishing itself as a creditable science.

If personalities have a biological basis, they can be scientifically and empirically investigated.

Eysenck's theory of personality, two heads with various examples of traits, StudySmarterTwo heads with various examples of extrovert and neurotic traits, StudySmarter Originals

Eysenck suggested a genetic predisposition in people that determines their personality type. How these genes are expressed also depends on the environment, hence his theory's psychological and biological basis.

This theory brings a lot of issues into question, primarily the argument of whether or not it is the criminal's fault for their behaviour.

When we suggest that our biological makeup is the reason behind our decisions and actions, we take away a degree of responsibility from it.

A criminal can argue that it wasn't their fault that they committed a crime in a court of law, as their genes are the reason behind their behaviours.

This theory also questions if it is ethical to prosecute someone if they are helpless but to obey or fall victim to their biological drives.

Eysenck's Personality Inventory/Questionnaire

Eysenck came up with his Eysenck Personality Inventory/Questionnaire (EPI/EPQ), which measures personalities, and places individuals along the E and N dimensions. He added another scale to measure psychoticism later on.


We need to evaluate the different aspects of Eysenck's theory of personality, to assess the reliability and validity of the theory.

Advantages of Eysenck's personality theory

Consider the study by Sybil Eysenck and Hans Eysenck (1977):

Procedure: They compared 2070 male prisoners with high EPI scores with 2422 male controls, divided between subgroups of ages ranging from 16 to 69 years old.

Findings: Upon analysing the results, they found that on measures of psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism, criminals scored higher than controls over all ages.

However, David Farrington et al. (1982) reviewed this and found that though criminals scored highly on P, there was no evidence of high scores for E and N.

There is also very little evidence of differences in EEG measures (which measure cortical arousal) between extroverts and introverts, which makes us doubt the psychological basis of Eysenck's theory.


Let's look at some of the weaknesses of Eysenck's theory.

Do we believe in a single criminal type?

There have been many doubts about this; for example, in 1993, Terrie Moffit came up with several types of offenders based on their first crime and how long their offending persisted.

Eysenck's theory doesn't go into enough detail. In 1990, John Digman proposed his Five-Factor Model, which suggests five dimensions. Along with extraversion and neuroticism, he suggested openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. According to Digman, people lie along the scale between two ends of the dimensions for each factor of personality. So, someone can be highly agreeable and open but have low neuroticism.

Eysenck's theory of personality Psychological explanations of crime. Study Smarter.Digman's Five-Factor Model illustration of each factor, StudySmarter Originals

Cultural differences

When Curt Bartol and Howard Holanchock studied six groups (grouped based on criminal history) of Hispanic and African-American prisoners in 1979 New York, they found that all six groups were less extroverted than a control group.

They suggested this was due to the cultural differences between this group and Eysenck's, which questions the generalisability of the criminal personality. Eysenck's theory seems only to be applicable to the culture in which he identified the results, and they do not extend beyond that.

Can we even measure personality?

Personality is a complex area of study, and the scale provides an infinite amount of scores that are hard to quantify and reduce into 'core personality types'. Can we conclusively say there are the 'big five personality types' when a person may score highly in one aspect and low in another, and these scores may differ, even very slightly, from one another?

Consider this; there are ways to shuffle a deck of 52 cards. So, there are more ways to shuffle and produce a combination of a deck of cards than there are atoms on earth.

Although this is not necessarily the same, can we not argue that there are many, many combinations of different personality types that can suffer from the same combination issues? How can we quantify and combine these personality types into a few specific parameters to assign people?

It may not be possible to reduce personality to these groups, as suggested by Eysenck, even when applied on a scale (which adds a degree of manoeuvrability, admittedly). Also, Mischel (1988) argued that personality could be context-dependent. A person may change and react/behave differently depending on the situation they have found themselves in, so these parameters personality psychologists have attempted to establish are not stable entities.

Lack of reliability and oversimplification

Eysenck's theory of personality relies primarily on self-report measures, which are subject to social desirability bias, lack of honesty and introspection, and a lack of self-awareness.

Thus, the theory lacks reliability. It also has issues with the parameters to which we classify criminals, as other theories imply there are more factors to a personality (Five-factor model).

Eysenck's Theory of Personality - Key takeaways

  • Eysenck's theory is both a biological and psychological theory of explanations of crime.
  • The criminal personality scores highly on measures of extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism. So, the criminal personality seeks excitement and stimulation and takes risks.
  • They tend not to condition easily and don't learn from their mistakes. They are also nervous, jumpy, and over-anxious, and their general instability makes their behaviour hard to predict.
  • Eysenck measures personalities on his Eysenck Personality Inventory. Eysenck's theory can be criticised for not being detailed enough in its evaluation of personality traits and for being measured inaccurately due to reliance on self-report measures, resulting in a lack of reliability (reliance on self-report measures).
  • It is also hard to conclusively say people fall into specific personality parameters.

Frequently Asked Questions about Eysenck's Theory of Personality

This is where someone has an inflated idea of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.

Extraversion, neuroticism, psychoticism.

They are called the Psychoanalytic Perspective, Trait Perspective, Humanistic Perspective, and Social Cognitive Perspective.

Eysenck argued that the criminal personality is one high in extravertism, neuroticism and psychoticism.

It acknowledges the influences of both genetic (biological) factors, and psychological (environmental) factors.

Final Eysenck's Theory of Personality Quiz


Select the following statement that is true:

Show answer


Eysenck's theory is halfway between a biological explanation and a psychological explanation of crime.

Show question


Define a psychological explanation.

Show answer


Psychological explanations shift the focus away from biological causes of crime to social and psychological influences.

Show question


What could the psychological and social influences on behavior be? Name as many as you can think of.

Show answer


Answers could include: dysfunctional learning environments, the influence of the family, cognitive factors and personality.

Show question


 According to Eysenck, which 3 measures does the criminal personality score highly on?

Show answer


Extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism.

Show question


Which year did Eysenck come up with his theory of criminal behavior?

Show answer



Show question


Where does Eysenck say all our personality types come from?

Show answer


Our nervous system.

Show question


Describe the characteristics of an extrovert.

Show answer


Extroverts have an underactive nervous system. So, they seek excitement and stimulation, and are more risk-taking. They also tend not to condition easily and don't learn from their mistakes.

Show question


Describe the characteristics of someone neurotic.

Show answer


Neurotic people are nervous, jumpy, and over-anxious. Their general instability makes their behavior hard to predict.

Show question


What did the 1977 Eysenck and Eysenck study find?

Show answer


On measures of psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism, criminal men scored higher than control men over all ages.

Show question


How did David Farrington dispute the Eysenck and Eysenck findings?

Show answer


He found that though criminals measured higher on P, on E and N they were not scoring higher than non-criminals.

Show question


What does EEG measure?

Show answer


EEG measures cortical arousement.

Show question


How does a low EEG measure make us doubt the psychological basis of Eysenck's claim?

Show answer


It found very little difference between extroverts and introverts, which questions the E dimension.

Show question


What were the 5 dimensions in John Dingam's Five Factor Model?

Show answer


Extraversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness and agreeableness.

Show question


Why does the existence of cultural differences between findings invalidate Eysenck's theory?

Show answer


Cultural differences mean that Eysenck's theory is not generalizable.

Show question


How else could we criticize the measuring of personality traits?

Show answer


Our personalities change depending on the situations we find ourselves in, so maybe personality isn't a stable identity that can be measured and reduced to a 'score'.

Show question

More about Eysenck's Theory of Personality

of the users don't pass the Eysenck's Theory of Personality quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.


Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.


Create and find flashcards in record time.


Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.


Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.


Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.