Biological/psychological factors of crime Essay Sample
The Positivist School of Criminology rejected the Classical School’s idea that all crime resulted from a choice that could potentially be made. Though they did not disagree with the Classical School that most crime could be explained through “human nature,” they argued that the most serious crimes were committed by individuals who were “primitive” or “atavistic”–that is, who failed to evolve to a fully human and civilized state. Crime therefore resulted not from what criminals had in common with others in society, but from their distinctive physical or mental defects. The positivists understood themselves as scientists and were concerned with scientifically identifying the causes of criminal behavior in individual offenders.
Biological Factors in Crime
Not many want to believe there is any such thing as a “bad seed;” that heredity can make criminal behavior unavoidable and inevitable for some individuals. Of course, bio-psychologists do not believe that genetic or physiological components are the sole causal agents in behavior.
In the past, theories of the biological aspects of criminal behavior were marked by a general lack of knowledge regarding the human brain and by serious methodological shortcomings. More recently, biological aspects of criminal behavior have been investigated by numerous behavioral scientists. Scientists in such fields as genetics, biochemistry, endocrinology, neuroscience, immunology, and psychophysiology have been intensively studying aspects of human behavior that are relevant to the criminologist.
Psychological theories of crime begin with the view that individual differences in behavior may make some people more predisposed to committing criminal acts. These differences may arise from personality characteristics, biological factors, or social interactions.
According to Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who is credited with the development of psychoanalytic theory, all humans have natural drives and urges repressed in the unconscious (Seigel, 2003). Furthermore, all humans have criminal tendencies. Through the process of socialization, however, these tendencies are curbed by the development of inner controls that are learned through childhood experience. Freud hypothesized that the most common element that contributed to criminal behavior was faulty identification by a child with his/her parents (Seigel, 2003). The improperly socialized child may develop a personality disturbance that causes her or him to direct antisocial impulses inward or outward. The child who directs them outward becomes a criminal, and the child that directs them inward becomes a neurotic.
The father of this field of study is said to be Cesare Lombroso. An Italian criminal anthropologist, Lombroso has likely been the most severely criticized contributor to the field of criminology. He applied an inductive method to the study of human and social phenomena. Lombroso set forth his anthropological theory of criminal behavior in his monumental work The Criminal Man. During autopsies, he noticed that certain physical stigmata was apparent. He concluded the certain number of these indicated a “born criminal”. He consistently emphasized the need for direct study of the individual, utilizing measurements and statistical methods in anthropological, social, and economic data. He began with the basic assumption of the biological nature of human character and behavior. He first conceived the criminal as a “throwback” to more primitive types of brain structure, and therefore behavior. He later modified this to include general degeneracy of defectiveness. He never claimed that the “born criminal” constituted more than only about 1/3 of the total criminal population. Ultimately, Lombroso concluded that crime was “atavistic” in nature. His study of the anatomical characteristics of criminals led him to believe in the “born criminal”.
Lombroso was not alone in thinking that external physical appearance demonstrated that criminals were biologically inferior to the law abiding. Only gradually did biological criminology shift from searching for external signs of biological abnormality to looking for internal clues of biological dysfunction.
Lombroso’s findings did not go unchallenged by other scientists and such criticisms probably explain why, over time, he found less and less “born criminals.” Lombroso’s most severe critic was the Englishman, Charles Goring. Goring wrote The English Convict, a study in which he analyzed the physical characteristics of 3000 inmates.
However, unlike Lombroso, Goring included a control sample in his study by comparing the convicts to an equal number of non-criminal British citizens. Included in the comparison group were college students, army members, and hospital patients. Goring was able to disprove that criminals showed physical anomalies when compared to the general population. He also found no significant differences in such traits as eye or hair color or left-handedness. The only differences Goring could document had to do with stature and body weight. He found criminals were on average 2″ shorter than non-criminals and weighed 3 to 7 pounds less. . Goring believed these differences demonstrated hereditary inferiority. However, Goring continued to maintain that criminals were primarily selected from the class of normal men, but may demonstrate “extreme degrees from the normal average.”
In other words, criminals were simply not that different from the rest of us. Goring performed a comparative study by collecting and organizing data on ninety-six traits (thirty-seven of which were Lombroso’s original) on over three thousand recidivist English convicts (Driver, in Pioneers in Criminology, 1972, 429). His examination of the relations of Lombroso’s thirty-seven physical and an added six mental traits allowed him to disprove that criminals showed physical anomalies when compared to the general population (Driver, Pioneers in Criminology, 1972; Goring, 1913). He tested and partly refuted the propositions of the Positive School of criminology (Goring, 1913).
In order to determine the role of mental stigmata in criminality, Goring measured the associations of kinds and degrees of criminality with the factors of temperament, facility, conduct, suicidal tendency, and insane diathesis (Goring, 1913). It was with respect to intelligence that criminals are most differentiated from the general community. He found a high association between criminality and defective intelligence (Driver, Pioneers in Criminology, 1972). In addition, he found strong, positive associations between criminality and insanity, epilepsy, and venereal disease. However, upon further examination of the data, he concluded that these “constitutional” detriments are mainly accidental association in relation to conviction (Goring, 1913). Ultimately, he concluded that “the physical and mental constitution of both criminal and law-abiding persons, of the same age, stature, class, and intelligence, are identical” (Goring, 1913).
Ultimately, he deemed it necessary that constitutional and environmental factors are instrumental in criminality. He concluded that three natural forces affect the criminal diathesis; these are: heredity, circumstance, and chance. Finally, Goring concluded that “English criminals are selected by a physical condition, … a mental constitution, or a moral constitution, that are independent of each other” (Goring, 1913, 263).
Traditional biological/physical trait theories have branched into theories of deviance questioning who defines crime, morality, and normality. They have included twin and adoption studies, which if nothing else, have identified a genetic component for convictions of crime (Einstadter & Henry, 1995, 94). Past implications of biological theories can help us to realize the possible consequences of our crime control efforts before we attempt to implement the same ideological based applications.
Driver, E. (1972). Pioneers in Criminology (2nd Ed). (pp. 429-442).
Einstadter, W., & Henry, S. (1995). Criminological Theory: An Analysis ofits
Underlying Assumptions. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Publishers.
Goring, C. B. (1913). The English Convict: A Statistical Study. London:
Patterson Smith, Co.
Lombroso, C. (1911). Crime: Its Causes and Remedies. Boston: Lit, Brown, and
Seigel, L.J. (2003). Criminology (8th Ed). Canada: Thompson Learning, Inc.