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Criminal Minds: Behavioral Profiling: Fact or Fiction?

Updated on February 22, 2015

Profiling Science or Fiction

Recently one of my granddaughters did a college paper on Behavioral Profiling. We had a long discussion and I thought it would be a great topic to write about. I'm sure many people have watched the program Criminal Minds, a show based on actual cases. I love how it takes the team about 20 minutes to form a complete profile on an offender and then another 20 minutes to find and arrest the offender. Not quite real-life. It would seem if there were an actual BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) that operated as the one on Criminal Minds there would be some differences. For example, I don't imagine a private jet at their disposal or travel in groups of five or six. While Penelope is a genius on the computer I wonder if searches would be as instantaneous in real life?

However, the question is whether or not the BAU and criminal profiling is a true science or is it fiction? Can anyone really pinpoint a perpetrator's motivations? Can anyone really identify a perpetrator's triggers? Lastly, can anyone really stop a perpetrator from committing further crimes?

Deductive Profiling

Greg O. McCrary a former FBI agent, forensic psychology professor, criminal profiler and threat analyst at Quantico, VA said he believed "behavior reflects personality". He thought that profiling needed to examine;

  • What possible fantasy or plan there was before the crime
  • The type of victims and number of murders
  • How the body(ies) were disposed of, in one place or multiple places
  • The "post-offense behavior" meaning whether or not the perpetrator tries to be part of the investigation by reacting to media reports and/or contacting investigators during the investigation.

The profiling used in Criminal Minds is often termed 'deductive profiling' which is the science of interpreting the forensic evidence as well as studying the victomology. Using photographs and forensic evidence the profiler then tries to reconstruct the perpetrators behavior at the crime scene and possible patterns that might provide further information about the perpetrator.

Behavioral Profiling

Behavioral profiling goes by many names such as, behavioral analysis, criminal profiling, forensic profiling, and criminal investigative analysis. There are detractors who claim that as a result of 'profiling' law enforcement has stopped looking when one suspect appears to fit the profile, enabling the true perpetrator to escape, or, there can be a single incident not providing enough to get reliable information and a true profile. Any method or science has it's detractors.

I would like to look at the benefits and science of profiling. Behavioral profiling is not something new (for brevity sake I will refer to it as profiling throughout this piece). In her book, "The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds", Katherine Ramsland gives us a lot of information, many facts, and much food for thought.

Ms. Ramsland points out that Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment exhibits traits of profiling. As the Inspector draws up a list of clients, examines their lives and makes a discovery. Connecting the discovery with other incidents in this possible suspect's life, the Inspector pursues the matter (and the suspect). After extensive questioning the suspect confesses...profiling led to the discovery of this suspect.

Another early proflie Ms. Ramsland points out, was in 1888 when Dr. Thomas Bond assists at one of the autopsies of a young lady killed by Jack the Ripper. His actual profile;

All five murders were no doubt committed by the same hand. In the first four, the throats appear to have been cut from left to right...In each case the mutilation was inflicted by a person who had no scientific nor anatomical knowledge. In my opinion, he does not even possess the technical knowledge of a butcher or horse slaughterer or any person accustomed to cut up dead animals...The murderer must have been a man of physical strength, and great coolness and daring...He must, in my opinion, be a man subject to periodic attacks of homicial and erotic mania....The murderer in external appearance is quite likely to be a quiet inoffensive looking man, probably middle-aged, and neatly and respectably dressed. I think he might be in the habit of wearing a cloak or overcoat, or he could hardly have escaped notice in the streets if the blood on his hands or clothes was visible....

He goes on with more detail. Although the Ripper was never caught, we can see from reading part of Bond's profile that he was definitely pioneering the profiling we know today.

Profilers Aid Investigators

Profilers are indeed used by many police organizations. The true effectiveness, like anything else, depends on the expertise of the profiler.

According to an article, "Psychological Profiling" at http://www.sagepub.ccom

They [Kocsis, Orwin, & Hayes] claim the most accurate groups are, in order of accuracy: professional profilers, psychologists, students, police officers, and self-declared psychics. That psychologists ranked second in the study suggests that psychologists are better at this endeavor than police officers, perhaps because of their understanding of human behavior.

Profilers aid investigations in so many ways. Using the information they gather they also attempt to come up with an interview strategy when a suspect is to be questioned. Often getting the correct motive or response helps to build a case against a subject. So as we see, a profiler alone will not catch a perpetrator nor convict one but will certainly be an aid in the investigation and capture of the true perpetrator.

There have been many books written about profiling and the different types of profiling. Most of those books written by investigators, criminal justice professors, retired profilers or FBI agents. Each making valid points about profiling, citing specific cases where profiling was effective and providing further study into the field of behavior profiling.

Criminal Minds Plane Scene

Criminal Minds and the Reality of Profiling

So as the BAU boards their jet to solve their next case, listen closely to the discussion on the plane between the agents as they review the case and attempt to put the pieces together before they get to the crime scene. Then, stop and think, though Criminal Minds simplifies the matter and makes it look and sound easy (and fake) it really can be done. Starting with basic facts they connect the dots in a one hour series and come up with a solution and arrest. In reality, profiling is truly a fact, and a credible science with no instant results but time, talent, and research.

Copyright Tillsontitan - All Rights Reserved

Interview with FBI Agent

Do you believe Profiling is a science?

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    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      Okay, I surrender ;)

    • fpherj48 profile image


      5 years ago from Carson City

      LMAO! You're quick on the draw with the great comebacks GF......So, you're not gonna believe this one. My friend Suzanne married a man named "JACK FROST!!" Truth! They even have a Little Jack Frost!

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      I thought she moved in with Jack Frost ;)

    • fpherj48 profile image


      5 years ago from Carson City

      Don't bother, Til.....I tried. She's out shacking up with Father Hawaii where it doesn't SNOW!

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      Ah but those of us who know and love you! I'm calling Mother Nature collect.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      5 years ago from Carson City

      LOL.....I'm always wondering when people who don't know the story behind my nickname, are thinking.....Hmmmm this woman's friends are calling her an EFFER? How rude! LMAO Yes, it's April. No one told Mother Nature!

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      Glad you enjoyed Kristen, certainly one of my favorite shows.

      Hmm, Effer, there a pattern here? I think this un-sub needs some watching. BTW it snowed here today...WT....It is the end of April right? Love ya.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      5 years ago from Carson City

      I'm privately in love with Dr. Spencer Reid....well it WAS private til now....and I know, part of my profile is "the un-sub is more than likely a child molester!!" LMAO! Til..we actually have had rain, cold temps and YESTERDAY IT EFFING SNOWED!!! Somebody needs to understand it's the end of April!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Mary, what a great hub about the fact and fiction on criminal profiling. I've watched Criminal Minds since the first season. Voted up for useful!

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Thanks Victoria. I have my granddaughter and her essay to thank for the idea but once I had it I had to go with it. I too love Criminal Minds.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      6 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      What a great idea for a hub. Very informational! And I do love Criminal Minds!

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      Thank you Mary. I think profiling must be helpful to law enforcement. At least it gives them a starting point and something to look for.

      Thanks Audrey, me too.

      Thank you Joanne. I am glad you found my hub interesting. I really think this is an interesting subject and researching it taught me a lot.

      Dana, me too. I love the acting, the cast, and the premise. Knowing the personalities of who you are looking for is very interesting. It definitely makes you think about what motivates people and I can see a psychology student being even more interested.

      Nicole, glad you found my hub enlightening. Fellow Criminal Minds fans should stick together ;)

      Ruchira, you have gained the point I was trying to make without even seeing the show. Thank you for reading and commenting, it is always good to see you here.

    • Ruchira profile image


      7 years ago from United States

      I don't watch that show since it gives me the creeps, but your points do make sense.

      Voted up as useful

    • NicoleMessenger profile image


      7 years ago from Illinois

      this was very enlightening , I'm also a fan of criminal minds. nice job with this hub...

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      Very interesting. Criminal minds is my favorite show. I find it so interesting because of the focus on profiling. Obviously they simplify it for television, but the things they say about the various personality types and such are accurate. I guess my love of the show is the psychology student in me showing itself....

      Nice job with this. It is just enough information presented and done it a way to point those of us that want to learn more in the right direction.

    • profile image

      Joanne M Olivieri 

      7 years ago

      I watch that show regularly and do believe it has a component of fact to the storylines. Your hub is very interesting, well written and extremely informative. Voted up!

    • moonlake profile image


      7 years ago from America

      I love Criminal Minds. I do believe in profiling. I don't believe it happens as fast as it does on the show but I think it does help the police. There is one reality show, a woman is a profiler for different police depts. I can't remember what it's called. She helps them find their man.

      Voted up and more.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      7 years ago from California

      Very interesting hub! I am a believer!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      7 years ago from Florida

      You wrote a very in depth and interesting Hub here. I can't comment on this TV show because I gave up cable some time ago.

      I can see where behavioral profiling would come in handy for law enforcement, that's for sure!

      Voted UP, and will share.

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      It can definitely be a brain teaser Linda. Derek is gorgeous and I'll leave it at that ;) Keep smiling SS!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I love Criminal Minds. I adore the team. Marathons make me smile:) I like to play pretend agent and figure out people. I think it's a true science. Oh and Derek Morgan is my favorite!:)

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      Glad you enjoyed PaisleeGal. Real life and TV are never the same, even or should I say especially the reality shows! Thanks for the vote.

    • PaisleeGal profile image

      Pat Materna 

      7 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee, USA

      Enjoyed this hub and the one you did on Criminal Minds, the show. One of my fav crime shows. On the show it seems to all happen so quickly. The line "wheels up in 30" is even impossible to believe when you think about it. I have a friend who's son is a homicide detective in Memphis, Tn. and he says it never works like on TV. It's lots of leg work and heavy stress.

      Your quote re: the Ripper was very interesting. I'd like to find out more about that profiler.

      Thanks for the great read. voted up !

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      No Frank, thank YOU! With your professionalism and extensive criminal knowledge, hope that's not an inside knowledge ;) kidding of course, I am honored by your comment. I LOVE your stories so to think you liked my hub really makes me feel I might've been on to something! Thanks again.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      7 years ago from Shelton

      Till I've never watched Criminal Minds Nor Cold Cases.. and those are two shows I have really meant to watch.. but time made it impossible.. But I enjoyed reading your hub.. Points I would love to add.. I believe Forensic Psychology gives physical evidence that much added boost.. Behavorial Profilling is an art form.. not like that show Lie to Me .. but similar.. it offers two more things to detectives: One, the killing was an act of impulse rather than premeditation.. think about it no shooter with any semblance of professionalism would shoot and kill someone and have nothing written on his face that cannot be detected... two.. you can be so pissed off that you kill someone.. and the aftermath is shown on your face.. inorder to be a prolific profiler you must understand these behavorial patterns.. again great hub im not gonna bore you with my comment... just thank you :)

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      I think, Effer, we need to email. Too much to tell in comments.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      7 years ago from Carson City

      You are one of the most honest, straight -shooting women I've ever had the pleasure to converse with! Are you kidding? I could tell you how I know this, but it's not for public viewing.....

      I'm very sorry to hear that your kids had some trouble with Sandy...please tell me it's not terribly serious and that all will be fine.. Come to think of it, I never did ask you, if all your children live near Mom & in, close enough to see as often as you'd like. Peace.

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      I always knew you were a nurse Maria, but not psychiatric. My first job was secretary to the associate director of psychiatry in a big hospital in NYC....learned a lot! It's a great field and the granddaughter I spoke about is looking into being a psychiatrist. Glad you enjoyed my writing!

      Au Fait as you always are, you are head on on this one. Funny, Billybuc said CM was his favorite too before he gave up his tv. NCIS is my next favorite too! Mark Harmon and the entire crew are in a word, priceless.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      7 years ago from North Texas

      Despite the fact that some people like to poo-poo PSYC, government, and big business use PSYC to manipulate people all the time -- and most of the time people don't have any clue that they're being manipulated. No field of study is perfect, but PSYC can do some amazing things.

      Criminal Minds was my favorite program when I still had a TV. NCIS was my 2nd. Just had to read your hub to see what you had to say about CM. Voted up, interesting, and will share!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Mary,

      I am a firm and solid believer. I believe as a psychiatric nurse there are clues of human behavior all around us for the looking...

      Your writing is detailed, descriptive and fascinating. Great clips as well and I love how this was inspired from conversations with your granddaughter.

      Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      Obviously Bill you are not alone. It is controversial and I agree, the profile is only as good as the profiler. Glad you enjoyed.

      Now, my friend, are you telling me you are a Behavioral Analyst? If the answer is yes Effer, I'm in trouble and its obviously too late to lie ;) CR is one of my favorites as well and after writing this I decided to do a hub on CR which should be published in a day or two. By the grace of God we had no damage from Sandy though some of my kids didn't fair as well. Luv ya right back my dear GF!!!

      Xstatic, that is the bottom the profiler right? I would think its up to law enforcement to make that call BEFORE they send someone to prison.

      Thanks Eddy! Always good to see you.

      Kenyan, my next hub is going to be on Criminal's a great show with a great mix of characters. Thanks for stopping by.

    • kenyanXstian profile image

      Eword Media Unit 

      7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      I haven't watched criminal minds yet, but now that you explain it this well, I gotta find it.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting and thank you for sharing.


    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      7 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      I never thought about the use of profiling in those early examples you cite, but it is clear that a certain amount of it has been around for a long time. While I don't watch the TV show, I find the use of profilers very interesting and see references to them in many articles. This is an excellent overview of the science, but we all hope the profiler is right when he or she begins zeroing in on suspects.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      7 years ago from Carson City

      Til....Did you write this one "especially for Effer?" I hope so, because I surely sat up straight when I read your title......THIS is what I call directly up my alley and lots of fun.....Thank you GF.

      If your questions were all hypothetical, I know you won't mind if I answer anyway?....

      (Criminal Minds is one of my favorite programs,BTW).....However, just as any "created scenarios" we see develop, be investigated and solved within an hour...minus....commercials, needless to say, in real life, you're correct; this does NOT happen. AND, just as with any method or concept, there are numerous schools of thought. "Profiling," in terms of examining crimes, and narrowing the scope for investigators, is far more often accurate than not. The entire science behind it is extremely complex. The truth is, Behavioral Science has been around for well over a century, under various names and usage.

      In criminal investigation, it is "projecting," as opposed to Behavioral Analysis of an individual for the purpose of psychological diagnosis.....In the former, the person is not yet "known". In the latter, of course, the person (or patient) is obviously, known.

      So as not to drone on and on.....I can confidently tell you, an expert Behavioral Analyst ( a-HEM...brag) can very often glean a near perfect personality profile of even the most uncooperative patient.

      OR.... it does an individual little good to lie, put on airs, refuse to speak or attempt to misdirect a good Behav. fact, truth be told, this makes it easier.

      You are the rock star of interesting and enjoyable hubs, gf.....I vote this Up as high as possible and am sharing!! are you all doing with "Sandy??" love ya...Effer

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm not sure where I stand on this; I have read that oftentimes the profile is so vague as to be useless. As with any information, I guess it is only as good as the one compiling it.

      Great job of research and explanation, Mary! Thank you for the education.


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