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Biological Theories of Crime. Biological Theories. Focus on anatomical, physiological, or genetic abnormalities within the individual Deterministic causation vs Free will Ignore the effect of social environmental factors in crime Control==>Cure, treatment

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Biological Theories of Crime

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biological theories
Biological Theories
  • Focus on anatomical, physiological, or genetic abnormalities within the individual
  • Deterministic causation vs Free will
  • Ignore the effect of social environmental factors in crime
  • Control==>Cure, treatment
  • Shifts focus away from act and back to Actor
biological theories3
Biological theories
  • Crime has been redefined as “sick” rather than “bad” behavior
  • “Medicalization” of behavior (hyperactive children are given medicine)
  • Search for individuals traits rather than social factors
fundamental assumptions of biological theories
Fundamental assumptions of biological theories
  • The brain is the organ of the mind and the locus of personality. No theory of behavior can ignore neurology and neurochemistry
  • The basic determinants of human behavior are genetically based
  • Observed gender and racial differences in rates and types of criminality may be at least partially the result of biological differences b/w the sexes and racially distinct groups
Knowing what you do about trends and patterns in crime, how would you counteract the assertion that people who commit crime are physically abnormal? For example, how would you explain that fact that crime is more likely to occur in western and urban areas than in eastern and urban areas?
lombroso s theory of born criminal
Lombroso’s Theory of Born Criminal
  • Observed the physical characteristics (head, body, arms, and skin) of Italian prisoners and compared them to Italian soldiers
  • Concluded that criminals were physically different
  • Born criminal is unsuited for society
  • Inevitably violate social and legal rules
critique of lombroso
Critique of Lombroso
  • Theory overlooks the bright and handsome criminals
  • Theory ignores those who are ugly and live lives of productive and cooperative labor.
  • Theory does not look at the variations over time in crime rates. Since genes change very slowly, there should be a steady rate of crime over the centuries. That is not the case. Crime rates vary dramatically.
critique of lombroso9
Critique of Lombroso
  • He was studying the very poor - people whose physical development had been affected by poverty, poor nutrition
  • Not everyone who breaks the law ends up in prison. This type of theorising neglects the idea that there is a "grey area" of criminality - people who commit crimes but who are not caught and therefore not imprisoned.
critique of lombroso10
Critique of Lombroso
  • Particular groups in any society may possess the power to either "hide" their deviance or - more probably - escape having their behaviour classified / labelled as deviant in the first place
  • In this respect, Lombroso's research was hopelessly biased
charles goring 1913
Charles Goring (1913)
  • Junior medical officer in the English prison service
  • Tested the concept of “born criminal”
  • He used statistical analysis to determine the presence of 37 Lombrosian characteristics in the criminal population (2,348 convicts)
  • Compared criminals with “non-criminal public” (undergraduate students, soldiers, inmates of two separate hospitals)
  • Findings: no evidence of a physical type criminal
body types
Body Types
  • Criminality is explained by reference to the offenders’ body types. Genetics, or external observable physical characteristics
ernst kretschmer
Ernst Kretschmer
  • “biopsychological constitutional typology”
  • Cycloid personality, associated with heavy, soft type of body, lacks spontaneity and sophistication. Commit mostly non violent property crimes
  • Schizoids (athletic body type) commit violent types of offenses
  • Displastics (mixed group) are highly emotional, unable to control themselves, commit mostly sexual offenses and other crimes of passion.
1949 william sheldon varieties of delinquent youth
1949: William Sheldon: "Varieties of Delinquent Youth"
  • Endomorph: fat, round--Psych: luxury, sloth, consumption.
  • Ectomorph: frail, skinny, gangly--Psych: introverts, cunning, stealth.
  • Mesomorph: large, strong, hard--Psych: active, dynamic, assertive, forceful.
  • Study-200 boys, Hayden Goodwill Institute. 7 point somotyping scale, 650 psychological attributes. Disproportionately mesomorphic--more prone to delinquency.
  • Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck (1950's): 800 adjudicated delinquents/matched sample of non-delinquents==> delinquents more likely to be mesomorphs.
questions problems
  • Maybe need a tough body to gain acceptance/survive on the streets.
  • Body type and social meaning--the boys were already judged to be delinquent
  • Body type can change over time
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder brain dysfunction
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (brain dysfunction)
  • Lack of attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity
  • Blue, green - areas of low metabolism
  • 3% of children (boys)
  • Stimulants like Ritalin
  • Control emotional


the xyy supermale
The XYY “Supermale”
  • Patricia Jacobs (1965) examined 198 Scottish prisoners for chromosomal abnormalities (blood test known “karyotyping”)
  • 12 member of the group displayed XYY (only 3.5% of prison population)
  • 1976 Danish study of 4,000 men found that the incidence of XYY men was less than 1% in the general male population
the xyy supermale20
The XYY “Supermale”
  • Crimes for which XYY men were convicted were not violent ones
  • There was significant difference between the XYYs and the XYs in the conviction for violent offenses
200 studies on xyy males
200 studies on XYY males
  • Supermales are taller than average male, often standing more than 6’1’’
  • Suffer from acne or skin disorder
  • Have less than average intelligence
  • Come from families with a lower than average history of crime or mental illness
modern biological theories
Modern Biological Theories
  • Biochemical (diet, hypoglycemia, hormones, environmental exposure)
  • Neurophysiological (brain dysfunction)
  • Evolutionary theories