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Chapter 5 Trait Theory. Criminology 9 th edition Larry J. Siegel. Question. Do you think that people who commit crime are physically or mentally abnormal?. Trait Theories. Trait theories are made up of biosocial and psychological theories.

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chapter 5 trait theory

Chapter 5Trait Theory

Criminology 9th edition

Larry J. Siegel

© 2003 Wadsworth Publishing Co.


Do you think that people who commit crime

are physically or mentally abnormal?

trait theories
Trait Theories
  • Trait theories are made up of biosocial and psychological theories.
  • The primary focus of trait theories is human behavior and drives, i.e., aggression, violence, and a tendency to act on impulse – factors that are linked to antisocial behavior (as opposed to legally defined criminal acts).
biological and psychological traits
Biological and Psychological Traits
  • Both biological and psychological traits have been linked to criminal behavior, but notas causal linkages.
  • It is the “multiple factor” approach or the interaction of mental and physical traits with environmental and social factors that either suppress or trigger criminal behavior.
  • The focus is generally on persistent or chronic offenders.
foundations of biological trait theory
Foundations of Biological Trait Theory

Biological explanation of criminal behavior first became popular during the middle part of the

19th Century with the introduction ofpositivism.

What is positivism?

  • Positivism rejects the concept of free will.
  • Crime can only be understood if it is studied by the scientific method.
  • Human behavior is a function of internal andexternal forces, i.e., social, biological, psychological, or economic forces.
early positivists
Early Positivists
  • Early positivists included:
    • Lombroso - belief that certain physical characteristics indicate a criminal nature, i.e., atavistic anomalies.
    • Garofalo - certain physical characteristics and psychological characteristics indicate criminal nature, i.e., prisoner tattooing.
    • Ferri – belief in biological, social and organic factors as a cause of crime and delinquency, i.e., forces outside your control.
    • Sheldon - belief in body types which were susceptible to certain types of delinquent behavior, i.e., somatotype school.
problems with early positivist theories




Problems With Early Positivist Theories

The research of the earliest positivists

(who were biologists)

was plagued by poor:

biosocial trait theories
Biosocial Trait Theories
  • Biochemical Conditions and Crime
  • Neurophysiological Conditions and Crime
  • Genetics and Crime
  • Evolutionary Views and Crime
principles of biosocial trait theories
Principles of Biosocial Trait Theories
  • Genetic makeup contributes significantly to human behavior.
  • Not all humans are born with equal potential to learn and achieve (equipotentiality).
  • No two people are alike (with rare exceptions, i.e., identical twins), thus the combination of genetic traits and the environment produces individual human behavior patterns.
  • How do these principles contrast with social theories?

How does a biosocial theorist

explain learning?

biosocial theory biochemical perspective



Crime, especially

violence, is a function

of diet, vitamin intake,

hormonal imbalance,

or food allergies.

Explains irrational

violence. Shows how

the environment

interacts with personal

traits to influence


Biosocial Theory:Biochemical Perspective

Is there a link between

sugar and antisocial behavior?

If so, explain.

What is the link between

hormones and antisocial behavior?


biochemical considerations
Biochemical Considerations

Aggression and violence have been linked to diet. Some believe diets high

in sugar and carbohydrates are culprits.

What do studies show?




Criminals and

delinquents often suffer

brain impairment, as

measured by the EEG.

Attention deficit

disorder and minimum

brain dysfunction are

related to antisocial


Explains irrational

violence. Shows how

the environment

interacts with

personal traits to

influence behavior.

Biosocial Theory:Neurological Perspective

neurological impairment
Neurophysiology – the study of brain activity suggests that physical and brain abnormalities are acquired at the prenatal stage or through birth delivery trauma – in turn, they control behavior throughout the life span.

What is the link between brain chemistry and chronic offenders and crimes of violence?

Neurological Impairment



The major premise

is that criminal traits

and predispositions

are inherited. The

criminality of parents

can predict the

delinquency of


Explains why only a

small percentage of

youth in a high-crime

area become chronic


What do the results of

sibling and twin studies


Contagion Effect?

Biosocial Theory:Genetic Perspective




As the human race

evolved, traits and

characteristics have

become ingrained.

Some of these make

people aggressive and

predisposed to

commit crime.

Explains high

violence rates and

aggregate gender

differences in the

crime rate.

Explain why violence

is often driven by

evolutionary and

reproductive factors.

Biosocial Theory:Evolutionary Perspective


If there is a biological basis

to violence and aggression –

then how would a biosocial theorist

explain white collar crime?

evaluation of biosocial trait theory

If there are biological explanations for street crimes then by implication biological theory says that member of groups are biologically different, flawed or inferior. The is also a lack of adequate empirical testing.


Rather than suggest that there are born criminals and non-criminals, proponents maintain that some people carry the potential to be violent or antisocial and that environmental conditions can sometimes trigger antisocial responses.

Evaluation of Biosocial Trait Theory
psychological trait theories



Social Learning

Mental Illness and crime

Personality and Crime

Intelligence and Crime

Psychological Trait Theories
psychological theory psychodynamic perspective

Major Premise…..

The development of the unconscious personality early in childhood influences behavior for the rest of a person’s life. Criminals have weak egos and damaged personalities i.e., anger, sexuality, tendencies. Created by Sigmund Freud.


Explains the onset of crime and why crime and drug abuse cut across class lines.

What type of mood and/or behavioral disorders may affect offenders?

Psychological Theory:Psychodynamic Perspective
crime and mental illness
Crime and Mental Illness

A great deal of early research efforts found that many offenders who engage in serious, violent crimes

suffer from some sort of mental disturbance.

However, empirical evidence has contradicted this.

Research shows that upon release, prisoners who had prior histories of hospitalization for mental disorders were less likely to be rearrested than those who had never been hospitalized.

Mentally disordered inmates who do recidivate upon release appear to do so for the same reasons as the mentally sound.


Major Premise…..

People commit crime when they model their behavior after others they see being rewarded for the same acts. Behavior is reinforced by rewards and extinguished by punishment, i.e., learning processes.


Explains the role of significant others in the crime process. Shows how family life and media can influence crime and violence.

What is social learning theory?

Psychological Theory:Behavioral Perspective

social learning theory life experiences

An event

that heightens


Behavior and

values become






outcomes -


Social Learning Theory(Life Experiences)

Factors that

help produce

violence and


psychological theory cognitive theory

Major Premise

Individual reasoning processes influence behavior. Reasoning is influenced by the way people perceive their environment and by their moral and intellectual development, i.e., thinking, memory, ethical values.


Shows why criminal behavior patterns change over time as people mature and develop their moral reasoning. May explain the aging-out process.

Explain the relationship of cognitive processes, perceptions, and chronic offending.

Psychological Theory:Cognitive Theory
personality and crime
Personality and Crime

Personality can be defined as the reasonably stable patterns of behavior, including thoughts and emotions that distinguish one person from another. Personality reflects a characteristic way of adapting to life’s demands and problems.



Anti-Social Personalities


Abnormal Affect

intelligence and crime
Intelligence and Crime

What is the difference between

nature theory and nurture theory?

Do you think IQ and crime are linked?


If so, why are there more male than female criminals? or,

Why does “aging out” occur?