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From this it appears that in men the greater number of cases of stealing arise among the unemployable or those with very irregular employment, while in the women the largest figure is for those in regular work. While I can present no figures as to the relative frequencies in those offenders who have not been suspected of mental deficiency, I have an impression derived from cases heard while waiting in the courts of first instance that much the same conditions would be found, that men more often steal for reasons of necessity and women to procure accessory amenities of life. This is certainly the case with many youthful offenders who expend the proceeds of their crimes on sweets, cigarettes and the cinema.
It has appeared that emotional stability and working capacity have relatively less relation to mental age than to one another.
Relation between Capacity for Employment and Stability.
times Moderately Very
Stable unstable unstable unstable Total
22 Occasional employment ...
21 Regular employment
23 Still at, or just left, school
81 Men Unemployable
73 Occasional employment ...
97 Regular employment
48 Still at, or just left, school
234 The relation between lack of employment and emotional instability is evident and bears out the general observation that an employer particularly for rough and poorly-paid work will put up with a good deal stupidity but not with outbursts of temper. Those who combined emotional stability, nearly amounting to apathy, with little capacity for employment were of the lower intellectual grades, the unstable who were regularly employed were for the more part of the higher grade. The offences of the more stable and employable were either stealing or of a miscellaneous character such as cruelty, assault or desertion.
As has been pointed out, defectives may commit any crime and may show cunning in eluding detection, yet on the whole their offences like their other performances, bear the hall-mark of inefficiency. Many are committed under circumstances leading to inevitable detection, others are of so simple and fatuous a character as scarcely to deserve the title of crimes. An extreme example is the case of a young adult man who had been incapable of completing his education in a special school and who had a mental age of 5 on intelligence tests had, by reason of a good disposition and a certain willingness, been able to keep a place for a long time where the work was of a simple and invariable nature. He was the sole support of a widowed mother and had been accustomed to carry home his weekly wage in a small wallet. One day he noticed an apparently simple method of earning money, as he saw certain ladies holding up bags to passers-by in the streets who placed coins therein with every sign of satisfaction. He went home, fetched his wallet, took it to the main road of the district and in his turn held it out to passers-by as he had observed the others do, only to be arrested in a few minutes for the fraudulent pretence of collecting money for a flag day; a thing he had never heard of or, more correctly perhaps, had never understood. In such cases the very circumstances of the offence serve to indicate the mental status yet the rest of the history may indicate an absence of any need for institutional care.
In the bulk of the cases which have come to notice a deficient mentality as estimated by ordinary intelligence tests has been combined with evidence of emotional instability and an incapacity for securing or keeping employment. Such offenders have been certified as feebleminded or in the lower grades as imbeciles. There have, however, been a few who showed responses to tests little if at all below the average of their class with a good working capacity when they chose to exert themselves but who presented evidence either of a general emotional instability or an excessive development of some instinctive tendencies and subsequent habits with limited powers of inhibition, exhibited from an early age. Some whose offences are of a limited and specialised character often carried out under conditions such that a successful result could be of no profit to the individual may be the victims of a psycho-neurosis, though it is only occasionally that they can be distinguished clearly from the foregoing class especially as it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between a compulsion and a habit. Others, especially at the period of adolescence, have temporary lapses of inhibition. Some, however, throughout life show a consistent failure to recognise the rights and susceptibilities of others even of their nearest relatives and friends.
Mr Burt suggests a definition of temperamental defectives for that of moral imbeciles but his proposal would cover only the class described by Guthrie as having the unstable emotional temperament: the very instability takes them out of the legal category of “Moral Imbeciles” since they are too vacillating to have strong propensities. In the true
Med. Psych, in
moral imbecile the defect is not so much lack of inhibition as lack of feeling; the emotions are too neutral. Ordinarily instinctive behaviour is controlled both by intellectual and emotional factors; in the moral imbecile the instincts remain functioning and the intellect intact but the mind is deprived of the normal affective guidance. The individual who does not feel strong emotions will not comprehend them in others and perhaps will not even recognise their existence. He may superficially obey the dictates of fashion but will not develop altruism. Such an one can pursue an intellectual end undisturbed by the views of those around him but is incapable of feeling moral ideas though intellectually able to render lip service thereto. His conduct remains amoral but it is only when he violates certain taboos in a specified manner that he can be legally certified.
The Moral Imbecile is one who from an early age has displayed some permanent mental defect coupled with strong vicious or criminal propensities on which punishment has had little or no deterrent effect.
The word 'permanent' excludes any temporary instability or misconduct resulting from repressions which might be relieved by psychotherapy or which as in many adolescent cases might be outgrown. 'Early age’excludes so-called moral insanity or obsessions or compulsions arising in later life. It is true that the exact limits of the term have not yet been determined by the High Court but from decisions in the lower courts it is unlikely that it would be extended to include the period of adolescence. Also it has been laid down by a Justice of the High Court that there must be real evidence as to early age in any case dealt with under the Mental Deficiency Act, an opinion of the certifying medical practitioner based on his observation of the conditions found in later life will not suffice. It must also be noted that the definition runs: permanent mental defect coupled with vicious etc. propensities, not defect shown by such vicious or criminal propensities. In this connection the legal attitude is perhaps shown by a direction to the jury by a master of the High Court in a case involving the civil capacity of an alleged imbecile: “They (the jury) must be satisfied that the respondent was incapable of governing himself and his affairs by reason of unsoundness of mind, mere weakness of character, mere liability to impulse or susceptibility of influence, good or bad, mere imprudence, extravagance, recklessness, eccentricity or immorality-no, not all these taken together would suffice unless they believed themselves justified on a review of the whole evidence in referring them to a morbid condition of intellect.”
To come under the definition then there must be evidence of mental deficiency apart from the conduct complained of and this evidence must be consistent largely in the personal observation of the certifying officer, mere history will not suffice. Answers to the so-called ethical test questions sometimes applied afford little assistance, for the true moral imbecile has a perfect appreciation of verbal morality as applied to others; his difficulty is not to answer questions but to order his life honourably and harmoniously. Sometimes the responses will show a lack of normal appreciation but more often the subject will weave a web of words to explain all situations and to show he has been misunderstood and the victim of mischance. An innate mental basis as apart from habits derived from the social environment must be proven. Nevertheless in certain cases the certifying officer by going over the past history in conversation with the subject may be able to show that the state of his mind is such that he was not, is not and is never likely to be able “to understand what is for his profit and what for his loss," the definition suggested by a legal commentator of some centuries past. It is quite clear, however, that law has an intellectual bias and comprehends better failures in reasoning power than in emotional inhibition.
Lastly, the punishment must have been real and appreciated as such by the subject, too often in such cases the early life has been one of indulgence with punishment confined to threats. Under these conditions it is usually far easier to deal with the individual as feeble-minded than as a moral imbecile.
In dealing with cases in which the main evidence to be considered is anti-social behaviour and the reasons assigned for such, it is very necessary fully to consider the matter of early environment and to disentangle innate and permanent tendencies from acquired and possibly avoidable habits. In this task, the certifying officer must review his decision at the bar of his own conscience, considering on the one hand, whether he under such circumstances could have acted differently, and on the other, whether he may be projecting on to the subject any of his own personal prejudices and beliefs, always remembering that “if every man had his deserts, who should ’scape a whipping?"
DELINQUENCY AND MENTAL DEFECT (IV)?.
By W. H. B. STODDART.
The word 'delinquency' originally meant a crime or misdeed of some kind; but psychologists have for some considerable time extended its meaning to include “a tendency to commit crimes or misdeeds” and, in such psychological discussions as the present, delinquency refers to the tendency only and not to the misdeeds themselves; and for the purpose of this symposium I take the term Mental Defect to mean Intellectual Defect or Defect of Intelligence.
Having adopted these meanings we may say that the topic of our symposium is “Moral Defect and Intellectual Defect” and our object is to discuss the relationship between the two, if any exists. We are justified in supposing that it does exist because we are familiar with the fact that Mentally Defectives, especially low grade imbeciles, steal, fight and lie like troepers.
Having thus orientated ourselves, let us consider the normal:Morality and Intelligence. My predecessors in this symposium are all agreed that Morality is not innate but acquired after birth. For practical purposes and for the most part I agree with them.
Learning is also acquired after birth, so let us begin by noting this similarity: that morality and academic learning are both acquired during the life of the individual. Moreover, the essentials of both are acquired during the first twelve years or so, but normally both continue to grow to some extent throughout life. So far as academic learning is concerned this is obvious, and I will justify the statement respecting morality by a short digression to explain its nature.
Every normal child is born into the world with certain latent instincts which, if allowed free uncontrolled play, would prove anti-social and their owner would be an immoral selfish beast; but, partly from an innate tendency to comply with the wishes of his fellows (herd-instinct) and mainly from training and association with moral, ethical and conventional beings, he learns to control his instincts and thus to become a
1 A contribution to the Symposium presented at the Joint Meeting of the Educational Section and the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society, April 25th, 1923.