Approaches to Psychological Profiling


Psychological profiling can be perceived as an art rather than a science since it requires a deep understanding of human behavior. As a result, forensic mental health professionals are well equipped with knowledge that allows them to review the available evidence and offer profiles of individuals who may have committed a criminal act (Turvey, 2011). Profiling utilizes inductive reasoning, which aims to generalize particular cases to distinguish broad categories associated with certain types of crime. Therefore, this technique is valuable for establishing common patterns of criminal behavior, provided that the profiler has adequate forensic experience. Furthermore, multiple approaches to psychological profiling exist, which can be combined to develop a more comprehensive overall picture. These approaches have been explored through relevant and peer-reviewed scholarly sources with high citation ratings to produce a hypothetical scenario of thorough psychological profiling.

Offender Profiling

Offender profiling focuses on highlighting specific traits of individuals involved in a particular type of crime. Canter (1995) defined offender profiling as “inferring characteristics of an offender from the way that offender acted when committing the crime” (as cited in Turvey, 2011, p. 72). Therefore, offender profiling creates a portrait of an individual who is likely to be a perpetrator of a particular criminal act. This information can be used further for crime-solving purposes or crime prevention purposes.

Offender profiling can be combined with victim profiling in order to produce a stronger profile. For example, Vertommen et al. (2017) profiled perpetrators of interpersonal violence in Dutch and Belgian youth sport based on the survey data from the victims. As a result, the profilers managed to define likely perpetrators of psychological, physical, and sexual violence depending on the victim’s gender. For instance, in most cases, sexual violence against males was perpetrated by a group of other males (19,6%) or fellow male athletes (17,9%) (Vertommen et al., 2017). Overall, this approach allows narrowing the circle of possible offenders by defining the criminal’s personality.

Victim Profiling

Victim profiling technique is similar in application to offender profiling with a difference of being focused on inferring characteristics that made individuals susceptible to a particular type of crime. This information allows to identify vulnerable groups and predict scenarios of the perpetrator’s behavior. For instance, a survey by Deliema et al. (2019) defined the characteristics of investment fraud victims as opposed to general investors. More than 80% of known victims were males, and 62,2% attended college or had an advanced degree (Deliema et al., 2019). In addition, the victims demonstrated a significantly more materialistic attitude to life compared to general investors (Deliema et al., 2019). As a result, the fraudsters were able to exploit overconfidence and eagerness to risk for higher yields through unsolicited calls, emails, and advertising. In such cases, victim profiling offers a chance to counter specific types of criminal activity by addressing the likely targets of perpetrators.

Equivocal Death Profiling

On certain occasions, the circumstances around death do not point at murder. Moreover, suicide might also be a questionable cause of death since a probability may exist that an individual killed themselves by accident. In such cases, the approach of equivocal death profiling allows exploring death by reconstructing thoughts, feelings, and actions of a deceased person (Saxena & Saini, 2017). This technique is similar to victim profiling, with the exception that a victim and a killer might be the same person, or there might be no murder or intended suicide at all.

Equivocal death profiling includes several crucial stages, and each of them contributes to the creation of a deceased individual’s psychological profile. For example, a profiler needs to obtain information about the victim’s medical and psychiatric history, possible stressors and triggers of suicide, and any thoughts or feelings they have expressed before dying (Saxena & Saini, 2017). This psychological autopsy allows concluding whether the death resulted from accident, suicide, or homicide, which is crucial for the investigation process.

DNA Profiling

DNA profiling provides a crucial instrument for incriminating or exonerating suspects in cases when a victim and a perpetrator had physical contact, and it is possible to obtain a DNA sample. According to Alamoudi et al. (2017), computer databases that contain DNA information on criminals have helped associating crimes to offenders. Therefore, a combination of DNA profiling and other approaches such as victim and offender profiling allows narrowing the scope of suspects significantly.

Searching for DNA samples is extremely important in such cases as rape/sexual assaults. According to Turvey (2011), DNA-based evidence allows ruling out innocent suspects quickly. DNA profiling also makes possible to confirm ownership of crime-related items, such as weapons, with a high degree of certainty. Overall, DNA analysis serves as a vital technique for exonerating individuals within the selection scope established by the other profiling methods.

Crime Scene Profiling

A crime scene is a complex concept that contains a significant amount of details related to the offender and their criminal activities. For example, a single case of homicide may include a primary scene and a separate dumpsite. The primary scene would be where the offender spent most of the time related to criminal activity, and the dumpsite could serve as a place where they disposed of the body (Turvey, 2011). However, one should realize that offenders do not necessarily follow the crime scene classification, and the dumpsite might appear to be the primary crime scene.

A proper crime scene profiling allows to establish links between the offender’s and victim’s psychological profiles and determine whether crimes are related to each other. For instance, a study by Sorochinski and Salfati (2019) highlighted distinctions between sex worker murders and mixed-series murders in regard to crime scene profiles. Specifically, victims in sex worker crime series were more often found inside, whereas victims in mixed-series were usually located outside (Sorochinski & Salfati, 2019). Therefore, crime scene profiling may potentially point investigators in the right direction.

Combination of Approaches to Profiling

All previously mentioned approaches may be combined to achieve better results in crime investigation. Moreover, an investigator should combine them since they support each other in inductive reasoning. For example, if several people were murdered in the vicinity of one big city, the investigation could start with crime scene profiling. This approach would reveal any existing linkages between the cases and provide valuable hints regarding the offender’s psychological profile. In addition to that, investigators could obtain information about victims in order to establish possible patterns of victim selection. Equivocal death profiling would allow dismissing any possibilities of accidental or non-malicious death. Finally, DNA profiling would let to determine whether the same person was present at the crime scenes. In the end, offender, victim, and crime scene profiling would assist with the creation of a generalized picture, and DNA profiling would allow exonerating suspects who are not related to investigated murder cases.


The various approaches to psychological profiling provide a valuable instrument for crime investigation. Offender, victim, crime scene, equivocal death, and DNA profiling make it possible to establish patterns of criminal behavior, link criminal cases together, narrow the scope of suspects, and exonerate the innocent. However, these approaches should be applied in a combination since an isolated use would significantly reduce their effectiveness. Overall, psychological profiling can become a useful asset if forensic workers are sufficiently qualified and all necessary conditions are strictly followed.


Alamoudi, E., Mehmood, R., Albeshri, A., & Gojobori, T. (2017) DNA profiling methods and tools: A review. In International conference on smart cities, infrastructure, technologies and applications (pp. 216-231). Springer. Web.

Deliema, M., Shadel, D., & Pak, K. (2020). Profiling victims of investment fraud: Mindsets and risky behaviors. Journal of Consumer Research, 46(5), 904-914. Web.

Saxena, G., & Saini, V. (2017). Psychological autopsy – A way to revealing the enigma of equivocal death. International Journal of Forensic Sciences, 1-8.

Sorochinski, M., & Salfati, C. G. (2019). Sex worker homicide series: Profiling the crime scene. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 63(9), 1776-1793. Web.

Turvey, B. E. (2011). Criminal profiling: An introduction to behavioral evidence analysis (4th ed.). Elsevier S & T.

Vertommen, T., Kampen, J., Schipper-van Veldhoven, N., Wouters, K., Uzieblo, K., & Van Den Eede, F. (2017). Profiling perpetrators of interpersonal violence against children in sport based on a victim survey. Child Abuse & Neglect, 63, 172-182. Web.

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