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Chapter Nine:. Developmental Theories: Life Course and Latent Trait. Developmental Theory. The view that criminality is a dynamic process, influenced by social experiences as well as individual characteristics

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Chapter Nine:

Developmental Theories:

Life Course and Latent Trait

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Developmental Theory

  • The view that criminality is a dynamic process, influenced by social experiences as well as individual characteristics

  • Developmental factors include biological, social, and psychological structures and processes

  • Attempts to provide a more global vision of a criminal career encompassing its onset, continuation, and termination

  • Difference between this theory and many others is that it attempts to explain what prompts one person to engage in persistent criminal activity while another finds a way to steer clear of crime

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Questions of Developmental Theory

  • Why do people begin committing antisocial acts?

  • Why do some stop while others continue?

  • Why do some escalate the severity of their criminality while others deescalate and commit less serious crimes as they mature?

  • What causes people to begin to commit crime again once they have stopped?

  • Why do some criminals specialize?

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Life Course Theories

  • Views that criminality is a dynamic process

  • Individual characteristics, traits, and social experiences influence this process

  • Theoretical views studying changes in criminal offending patterns over a person’s entire life

  • As people travel through their life course they are exposed to perceptions and experiences and thus their behavior may change as well

  • Considered integrated theories

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Life Course Concepts

  • Problem Behavior Syndrome (PBS)

  • Pathways to crime

  • Age of onset/Continuity of Crime

  • Adolescent-limited and life-course persisters

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Problem Behavior Syndrome (PBS)

  • A cluster of antisocial behaviors which may include:

    • Family dysfunction

    • Sexual and physical abuse

    • Substance abuse

    • Smoking

    • Precocious sexuality and early pregnancy

    • Educational underachievement

    • Suicide attempts

    • Sensation seeking

    • Unemployment

    • Crime

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Pathways to Crime

  • Authority conflict pathway

    • Path to a criminal career that begins with early stubborn behavior that leads to defiance and ultimately authority avoidance

  • Covert pathway

    • Path to a criminal career that begins with minor underhanded behavior that leads to property damage and eventually escalates to more serious forms of criminality

  • Overt pathway

    • Path to a criminal career that escalates to aggressive acts, leading to physical fighting and eventually escalates to violent crime

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Age of Onset/Continuity of Crime

  • The earlier the onset of criminality, the more frequent, varied, and sustained the criminal career

  • Poor parental discipline and monitoring are keys to the early onset of criminality

  • Continuity and desistance

    • Poor parental discipline and monitoring are a key to the early onset of criminality

  • Gender and desistance

    • For males early antisocial behavior is linked to later problems at work and involvement with drugs

    • For females early antisocial behavior is linked to relationship problems, depression, tendency to commit suicide

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Adolescent-Limited and Life-Course Persisters

  • Adolescent limited offender

    • Considered “typical teenagers”

    • Engage in rebellious teenage behavior

    • They eventually reduce their offending around 18

  • Life course persistent offender

    • Begin their offending at a very early age

    • Continue to offend well into adulthood

    • A small group of offenders

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Age-Graded Theory

  • Individual traits and childhood experiences are important to understand the onset of delinquent and criminal behavior

    • They alone cannot explain the continuity of crime into adulthood

  • Experiences in young adulthood and beyond can redirect criminal paths

  • Repeat negative experiences create cumulative disadvantage

  • Positive life experiences can help a person become reattached to society (social capital)

  • Delinquents can choose to “go straight”

  • Find more conventional paths more beneficial and rewarding

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Factors That Increase the Likelihood of Criminality

  • Weak social bonds

  • Accumulation of deviant peers

  • Labeling by the justice system

  • Unemployment or underemployment

  • Long-term exposure to poverty

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Latent Trait Theories

  • Some people have a personal attribute or characteristic that controls their inclination or propensity to commit crime

  • This disposition is often called the “latent trait”

  • It may be present at birth or established early in life

  • Though the propensity to commit crime is stable, the opportunity to commit crime fluctuates over time

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Latent Traits

  • Defective intelligence

  • Damaged or impulsive personality

  • Genetic abnormalities

  • Physical-chemical functioning of the brain

  • Environmental influences on brain function

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Types of Latent Trait Theories

  • Crime and human nature

    • Personal traits may outweigh the importance of social variables as predictors of criminal activity

    • Traits influence the crime-noncrime choice

  • General theory of crime (self-control theory)

    • The most prominent latent trait theory

    • Shifted focus from social control to self control

      • The view that the cause of delinquent behavior is an impulsive personality

      • Those who are impulsive may find that their bond to society is weak

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Analysis of the General Crime Theory

  • Explains why some people who lack self-control can escape criminality and why some might not escape

  • Some criticisms that remain unanswered

    • Tautological

    • Different classes of criminals

    • Ecological differences

    • Racial and gender differences

    • Moral beliefs

    • Peer influence

    • People change

    • Effective parenting

    • Modest relationship

    • Cross-cultural differences

    • Misreads human nature

    • One of many causes

    • Some criminals are not impulsive

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Policy Implications of Developmental Theories

  • Multi-systematic treatment efforts designed to provide at-risk youth with personal, social, educational, and family services


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