Alexithymia, Asperger's syndrome and criminal behaviour: a review

Katy-Louise Payne (Student, based at Department of Psychology, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)
Clive Hollin (Professor, based at Department of Psychology, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Publication date: 9 September 2014



The purpose of this paper is to review the empirical literature informing the nature of the relationship between criminal behaviour and both Alexithymia and Asperger's syndrome (AS).


The relevant literature was identified through database searches and via citations in primary sources.


Alexithymia and AS are relatively similar constructs with some overlap in their defining characteristics including utilitarian thinking and deficiencies in empathy. Alexithymia is significantly more prevalent in offender populations than controls and, in particular, has a complex relationship with psychopathy. The research concerning AS has mainly focused on offense type and reasons for offending. In terms of offences, homicide rates were in keeping with general base rates, however, sexual offences were under-represented and arson was over-represented.

Practical implications

In terms of reasons for offending, criminal behaviour is best described as a consequence of the classical characteristics of AS. It is suggested that despite their similarities the relationship of the two disorders with criminal behaviour may well be different. This suggestion has implications for the design of services intended to reduce the risk of offending in these two groups.


The review draws together a diverse range of literature around a rather neglected topic in criminological psychology. It will be of value to researchers in suggesting where new knowledge is needed, particularly with regard to disentangling the risk factors for offending for the two conditions, and to practitioners within the criminal justice system in pointing towards areas for intervention to reduce risk.



Payne, K.-L. and Hollin, C. (2014), "Alexithymia, Asperger's syndrome and criminal behaviour: a review", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 155-162.

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