Biological and Psychological Theories of Crime

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Biological and Psychological Theories of Crime

For decades now criminal behavior has been a central topic of numerous debates on the nature of its cause among psychologists, biologists, sociologists and other respective experts. Consequently, all scholars tend to preach their own truth either it is genetics, developmental processes or social environment. Extensive research has been conducted in order to identify the ultimate reason of criminal behavior and yet, it only escalated the disputes. The most common and referenced debate is the one that examines the arguments of nature versus nurture. Despite a widespread opinion that crime is the effect of a combination of several risk factors, social theories of criminal behavior seem to be at the peak of their propagation, though highly critiqued. In attempt to unravel the nature of crime, world’s academic circles came up with nothing but additional possible explanations of such behavior. In fact, there are several basic theories that contradict and, in fact, disprove social environment as the cause of crime. To be more precise, biological, psychological and economic theories of crime offer significant groundwork to at least undermine, and discredit at most, the validity of the sociological argument. Majority of social theories focus on the society, culture and respective circumstantial factors to justify the causes of criminal behavior. Whereas other theories view the society and environment as the facilitators of crime. Therefore, given paper will explore biological, psychological and economic theories in order to suggest credible evidence for the disproof of the sociological argument.

Biological theories of crime, commonly accepted as the most fundamental, focus on the idea of physiological factors that determine individual’s predisposition towards criminal behavior. These factors include inherited genes, evolutionary and brain structures as well as a set of hormones, which exert a critical impact on person’s involvement in violent behavior. In particular, the study of biological theory suggests that a malfunction of genes and physiological activities, and neurological deficits facilitate human’s criminal behavior (Ministry of Justice, 2009). Majority of contemporary sociologists aggressively reject the validity of biological arguments, whereas, in fact, they offer significant basis for the understanding and interpretation of individual’s predisposition toward crime. Moreover, although many people believe that biological explanations are irrelevant in terms of criminology due to intensive criticism, the criminologists themselves do not rush to discount the essence of biological theories (Marsh, 2006).

Noteworthy, the link between biology and crime mostly refers to the significance of brain activities and the heredity phenomenon. The first implies that our brain acts as a catalyst of neurological processes, which may lead to violent behavior. In turn, the latter refers to the fact that children of parents with criminal inclinations inherit their genes and thus, propensity to criminal behavior along. Individual’s brain system is the strongest argument against any social theory that simply ignores human neurophysiological processes. More precisely, neurochemicals activate certain behavioral patterns and tendencies in human brain. The most commonly known neurochemical element among masses, serotonin, is responsible for the generation of a range of personal traits such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. What is more important, numerous studies have proved its correlation with aggressive and impulsive behavior. For instance, Lowenstein’s research has discovered that serotonin is one of the central neurochemicals, which facilitates impulsive aggression. In addition, individuals with low levels of serotonin have been proven to exhibit aggressive and over-emotional behavior. Another neurotransmitter associated with a range of violent or anti-social behaviors is dopamine (Jones, 2005).

A great number of studies have revealed that individuals involved in criminal or anti-social activities have various types of personality disorders or respective traits. Moreover, these studies claim that oftentimes such personality malfunctions are vivid in childhood rather than adulthood. Among the most frequent issues are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct and Oppositional Defiance Disorders, each of which is characterized with either impulsivity or irritability, noncompliance, violation of social norms and others. Another aspect of biological theories reveals that there is a significant correlation between the personality traits and crime. The most referenced traits are aggression and impulsivity. Through the same studies and research it has been established that individuals inherit these disorders and personality traits through genes (Jones, 2005).

Psychological theories of crime are closely linked to biological explanations and yet, interpret human behavior from a rather different perspective. In order to explain the nature of criminal behavior, psychology focuses on the relationship between crime and human personality relying on cognitive, social and developmental factors. In the context of psychology of crime, parental education and treatment are the central elements with parents playing the key role respectively. Psychological theories examine the influence (and its degree) of parents on their children. Therefore, individual’s predisposition toward criminal behavior can be traced back to his/her childhood, parental education and care, attachment, abuse and respective activities (Ministry of Justice, 2009).

Criminologists supporting psychological theories hold that family environment is the key determinant of one’s personality and prospective behavior. To be more precise, criminologists believe that negative early childhood experiences, lack of appropriate socializing and sequence of relevant personal factors lead to criminal thinking and failures of cognitive development. For example, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud explains criminal behavior based on three major assumptions: 1) it can be understood through the study of childhood development; 2) behavior is intertwined with unconscious motives; 3) criminality represent one’s psychological conflict. In turn, the cognitive development theories advocated by Piaget and Kohlberg argue that people engaging in criminal behavior failed to frame their moral judgement during the pre-conventional stage of development. In this stage (9-11 years old), children question the right and wrong as well as the consequences of both. In fact, these research have found that young humans learn their moral judgement from the people they interact with regularly – parents, friends and close associates (Byrne, 2010). These findings prove the foundation of psychological explanations of crime as they point out that family is the major contributor to one’s personal development.

In comparison to sociological explanations, biological and psychological theories take into account the associated factors such as internal and external environment. Moreover, since psychological and biological theories are closely interrelated, they appear to have a stronger basis for the explanation of the cause of crime in this context. In particular, there are theories concerning the link between the genetics and environment, which in combination have a critical influence on one’s cognitive development. For example, such combination gave a rise to the general arousal theory of criminality. Eysenck, a famous personality psychologist, designed a model based on the three following factors: neuroticism, psychoticism and extraversion. Each of the factors concerned different aspects of human behavior, which reported a statistically significant correlation. Neuroticism is associated with emotionality, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and similar traits. Psychoticism refers to aggression, anti-socialness, impulsiveness and indifference. Finally, extraversion features such traits as socialness, assertion, dominance, action and carelessness. Eysenck’s studies have revealed that these three factors can act to predict criminal behavior (Jones, 2005). It is important to note here that numerous previous studies have found that these factors along with their associated traits are genetically transmitted. These findings, in turn, again prove the credibility of both biological and psychological theories of crime.

Despite strong and partially grounded criticism, biological and psychological explanations of the cause of criminal behavior offer serious counterarguments to the social theories of crime. Although historically biologically-based criminology was disregarded due to its materialism of thought and simplicity, it has been gaining momentum over the last decades (Marsh, 2006). The major advantage of both biological and psychological arguments over the sociological one is their tolerance and acceptance of the outside factors, which have obvious influence on human behavior. Whereas, sociological theories focus solely on the social environment of individuals in interpretation of the cause of crime.