Concept of the Month -- April 2004

The Criminal Does Learn from Experience

It is often said that criminals and others with an antisocial personality cannot learn from experience. The basis for this seems to be that they behave in a similar manner repeatedly, despite consequences negative to them and others. However, there is no "inability" to benefit from past experiences. The criminal simply does not learn what others (responsible people) want him to learn. He learns in matters that are important to him. For example, if he finds himself without funds because he has been a spendthrift, he does not become more economical, despite external pressures. He sees no need to because, from his standpoint, he will always manage one way or another to obtain what he wants. However, if he messes up a drug deal, he will certainly learn to be more careful, more vigilant, or whatever else it takes.

If a criminal literally lacked the capacity to learn from experience, then there would be no possibility of his changing. However, reached at a time of vulnerability in his life, he can learn to recognize errors of thinking including this one -- the failure to learn lessons from past mistakes or misjudgments. If he becomes fed up with himself, he can learn to apply what he has learned to the present and the future -- i.e. correct this error of thinking.

Stanton E. Samenow

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