ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Criminal Profiling: Myth vs. Reality

Updated on February 23, 2015

Criminal profiling is glamorized in criminal procedural television and movies: profilers can seem to have almost super-sensory powers of perception and are often portrayed as being key to solving cases. What was your understanding and perception of criminal profiling before this course? (Feel free to name specific movies or shows that come to mind.)
How did that perception change when you read the statistics and reality about criminal profiling?
Why do you think profiling's image in popular culture and its reality in the detective world are so different?

Prior to this course my understanding and perception of criminal profiling was quite different. I was under the impression that profiling was more of an art than an exact science, but that it was still an accurate way of catching criminals. I formed this opinion based on TV shows like Criminal Minds, Criminal Minds Suspect Behavior, and the Blacklist. Modern TV shows depict criminal profiling as what usually allows the cops/agents to catch the criminals. While the TV dramas do occasionally show parts of the profile being wrong, they almost never show the whole profile as being incorrect. Also the shows always have the profile composed of elements that are useful unlike the profiles I read about in this week’s chapter of reading.

My understanding and perception of criminal profiling changed when I read about the statistics and reality about criminal profiling. I learned, from a research study done in England, that profiles only helped 2.7% of the time in identifying the perpetrator of the crime (Costanzo & Krauss, 2012, p. 105). This particular statistic is what altered my perception or criminal profiling the most; I had no idea that it was such a small percent of cases that were solved by criminal profiling. Prior to this week if I had been asked to estimate the percentage of cases that were solved by criminal profiling I would have probably said 30%-40%. The only thing about criminal profiling that did not surprise me was Harvey Schlossberg’s statement that “in some ways, [profiling] is really still as much an art as a science” (Winerman, 2004, p. 66).

I believe that profiling's image in popular culture and its reality in the detective world are so different because of TV and movie viewers. The media is influenced by what people want to see, and no one wants to watch a show where the teams of profilers only use the profile to catch the criminals 2.7% of the time; that would not make for a good TV show. Instead people want to see criminal profiling that is done correctly most, if not all, of the time, the detectives always catching the bad guys, and a plot line that always wraps up nicely. If the studios created media that was based on reality in the detective world they would not have nearly as many viewers.


Costanzo, M., & Krauss, D. (2012). Forensic and legal psychology: Psychological science applied to law. New York, NY: Worth.

Winerman, L. (2004). Criminal profiling: The reality behind the myth. American Psychological Association, 35(7), 66.

Criminal profiling uses information about evidence found at crime scenes to produce a description of a criminal’s characteristics, personality, and possible motivation. Profiling has most often been applied to serial killers (defined as individuals who kill more than three people in different incidents). FBI profilers emphasize the signature of a criminal’s behavior because it is viewed as being unchanging. Profilers examine crime evidence to try to infer why the crime was committed, hoping the discovery of motive will lead to useful speculation about who committed the crime.
While television and movies make criminal profilers seem like glamorous, powerful characters in any investigation, that’s far from the reality: studies show that criminal profiling is not very effective. In fact, serious errors in profiling have sometimes impeded investigations, costing lives in the process.
Two extreme examples of profiling involve the Oklahoma City bomber and the D.C. sniper. In Oklahoma, the immediate reaction was to pursue middle-eastern suspects when the real mastermind of the attack was a white Army veteran. In D.C., the conventional wisdom that a sniper would be Caucasian sent the police on several wild goose chases before the suspects, both African Americans, were found. At best, profiling is an inexact science. While the movie The Silence of the Lambs is good cinema, it is not an accurate depiction of profiling.
Dr. Thomas Bond is credited with creating the first criminal profile, that of a serial killer active in London in 1888. The public called the killer, whose real identity was unknown, Jack the Ripper. By conducting autopsies on his victims, whom the killer attacked on public streets and mutilated, Dr. Bond determined that he was very strong, daring, and average looking. Since Jack the Ripper was never caught, Bond’s profile was never validated.
Police have continued to use profiling. For example, they used it to identify the person who set off a bomb during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Richard Jewell, who fit the description created by profilers, of a single, white, male with a strong interest in police work, was arrested for the crime in a highly publicized capture. However, no evidence was ever turned up to suggest Jewell was guilty, and eventually, the police arrested another man, Eric Rudolph, who was later convicted of the crime.
One study showed profiling led to correct identification less than 3% of the time. Studies comparing students, psychologists, and detectives find little difference in their ability to develop useful and accurate profiles. In fact, it is not surprising that profiles are difficult to construct, since the criminals that psychological profilers attempt to describe share very few characteristics as well as showing different characteristics in different contexts.


Costanzo, M., & Krauss, D. (2012). Forensic and legal psychology: Psychological science applied to law. New York, NY: Worth.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)