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Forensic Psychology – Criminality

3. Cognitive Explanations: Moral Reasoning

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In this lecture, we consider moral reasoning as a cognitive explanation for crime, focusing in particular on: (i) how moral dilemmas such as Kohlberg’s ‘Heinz’s dilemma’ have been used by researchers to investigate the types of reasoning that may lead a person to commit a crime; (ii) Kohlberg’s proposed levels of moral reasoning and how these are linked to offending behaviour; (iii) a more recent study by Palmer and Hollin (1998) which confirmed that juvenile delinquents on average tended to reason on a lower moral level; (iv) the limitations of Kohlberg’s research, highlighting its failure to consider such factors as gender or cultural differences and to sufficiently interrogate the relationship between moral reasoning and actual behaviour.


In this course, Professor Francis Pakes (University of Portsmouth) explores key issues in criminal psychology. In the first lecture, we think about Lombroso and the notion of the ‘born criminal’. In the second lecture, we discuss genetic explanations for crime more broadly. In the third lecture, we examine cognitive explanations for crime, focusing in particular on moral reasoning. Next, we think about cognitive distortions as a cognitive explanation for crime. In the fifth lecture, we consider the criminal justice system, focusing on the aims of imprisonment. In the sixth and final lecture, we think about recidivism.


Francis is Professor in Criminology. He studied psychology in Groningen (the Netherlands) and received his PhD from Leiden University (the Netherlands). He joined the University of Portsmouth in 1998. Francis has a keen interest in comparative criminal justice and the role of globalisation and shaping criminal justice across the globe. His background in psychology serves him well in studying issues of mental health and criminal justice and other vulnerable and excluded populations. He is an expert on prisons, crime and justice in the Netherlands and regularly features in the media discussing prisons, violent crime and other crime and justice related issues.

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APA style

Pakes, F. (2019, October 22). Forensic Psychology – Criminality - Cognitive Explanations: Moral Reasoning [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pakes, F. "Forensic Psychology – Criminality – Cognitive Explanations: Moral Reasoning." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Oct 2019,

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