Life Span Development and Personality: John Dillinger
University of Phoenix
John Herbert Dillinger
A number of elements influence the development of an individual’s psychological makeup. Genetics exerts an enormous influence on both the emotional and moral makeup of a person’s psychology. Their environment also exerts a strong influence over them. Environmental influences include family setting and issues and the individual’s social support network. These affect the individual’s skills in social development as well as influencing their unique personality characteristics. The differing theories of social development can account for different aspects of individual’s personality and behaviors.
Here we will discuss John Dillinger. He was born into a middle-class family in June of 1903 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His mother died when he was just three years old. His father “raised him in an atmosphere of disciplinary extremes” (FBI, 2009) acting in repressive ways toward his son. John Dillinger’s personality was evidently flawed prior to his reaching adolescence. He was often at odds with the law and his family. He left school at a very early age and worked in a machine shop. He was bored in that job and quickly left that line of employment. His father moved his family to farm country outside Moorseville, Indiana in an attempt to remove them from “the temptations of the city were corrupting his teenage son.” (FBI, 2009). John’s behavior did not improve.
Dillinger left his family and enlisted with the Navy after committing auto theft. Again, Dillinger grew bored in this organized setting and he went absent without leave during a layover in Boston. There he married 16-year-old Beryl Hovius in 1924 and then returned to Indianapolis. He teamed up there with Ed Singleton, a notorious pool. (FBI, 2009). He took on his first robbery at this time. He robbed a local grocery store and was taken into custody almost immediately. He was sentenced to a 10 to 20 year stretch and was released on parole after serving just 8 ½ years. He returned to crime and robbed a bank in Ohio. He was again apprehended and escaped with eight friends while awaiting trial.
Dillinger and his friends teamed up to commit a number of bank robberies. They even robbed police arsenals in Indiana where they stole machine guns, revolvers, ammunition, rifles and bulletproof vests. (FBI, 2009). Dillinger was again apprehended and again escaped. The FBI began an exhaustive search for Dillinger and apprehended him on July 22, 1934 when a friend gave a tip that led to his capture at the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Dillinger was shot leaving the theater and pronounced dead at Alexian Brothers Hospital. (FBI, 2009).
Dillinger’s development could well have had genetic roots, since his father demonstrated an intolerant and repressive personality. His father had used harsh methods of discipline to try to control Dillinger’s behavior. This approach proved to no avail. Instead of moderating Dillinger’s rebellious personality, the discipline had the opposite effect upon his psychological development. This is evidenced in his increasingly aggressive and antisocial behavior.
“The process of learning self-control and self-discipline is linked very closely with how a child feels about themselves and their relationship to the world. It's important that we help build and strengthen children's ability to determine for themselves what's right and wrong, and how to control their own behavior.” (PBS, 2009)
Dillinger would, of course, required direct foreseeable consequences for his behavior when he acted out beyond reasonable limits. However, the use of repressive discipline methods failed to instill a sense of right and wrong in him. Studies indicate that corporal punishment is not only ineffective but can contribute to a child developing more antisocial and aggressive behavior patterns. (APA, 2009).
Dillinger’s social support network during his early life appears to have also contributed to his poor psychological developmental growth and maladjustment. When he was beginning to run amiss with the law during his early teens, Dillinger teamed up with his new friends in a partnership that was founded during his time awaiting trial. When this group of friends made good their escape from prison, the men exerted a greater influence over Dillinger to continue to make antisocial and dangerous choices in his behaviors.
Dillinger’s behavior can be explained in a number of different ways by different theories of personality. The best known school of personality theorists is the psychodynamic theory. The school evolved from Sigmund Freud’s theories that we have “powerful unconscious motives that underlie their conscious intentions.” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). The foundation of this view rests on the fact that people can be unaware of their own subconscious motivations and process which affect their conscious thoughts, feelings, behaviors and intentions. The psychodynamic perspective suggests that “people are unaware of the subconscious chain of events that affect their conscious behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and intentions.” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005).
Cognitive psychologists use the metaphor of a computer to explain our thinking and information processes. These theorists postulate that “personality reflects a constant interplay between environmental demands and the way the individual processes information about the self and the world.” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). Bandura proposed that we are not driven in the ways suggested by Freud, but instead our behaviors are a reflection of “the schemas they use in understanding the world, their expectations of what will happen if they act in particular ways, and the degree to which they believe they can attain their goals.” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005).
I believe that the cognitive-social theory is the best framework to explain Dillinger’s actions. His behaviors may have been influenced by his mother’s untimely death and his father’s disciplinary methods, but it seems his basic world concept was his main motivator. His world view was skewed by the reinforcements that he received in his home and work environments. His ability to elude the law led him to believe that he could always do the wrong thing and still prevail.
A number of elements influence the development of an individual’s psychological makeup. Genetics exerts an enormous influence on both the emotional and moral makeup of a person’s psychology. Their environment also exerts a strong influence over them. Environmental influences include family setting and issues and the individual’s social support network. These affect the individual’s skills in social development as well as influencing their unique personality characteristics. The differing theories of social development can account for different aspects of individual’s personality and behaviors. Dillinger plowed on through life in great defiance which seems to be directly motivated by his underlying personality characteristics.
APA (2009) IS CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AN EFFECTIVE MEANS OF DISCIPLINE?
American Psychological Association.
FBI (2009) Famous Cases: John Dillinger. U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from FBI.gov
Kowalski, R. & Westen, D. (2005) Personality. Psychology, 4th edition. Ch. 12
PBS (2009) Building Inner Controls: Helping Children Develop Self-Discipline and Self
Control. The Whole Child. PBS.