Discuss the extent to which explanations of crime may be reductionist.

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Turning to crime
Discuss the extent to which explanations of crime may be reductionist.
Reductionism is when research/theory is narrowly focused and fails to take into account the holistic "bigger picture".
Reductionism can be positive or negative. Positively reductionist research focuses on one explanation of criminality
and provides a deeper level of explanation than holistic research might. However psychologists who focus their
research narrowly may be accused of being close-minded or missing vital explanations for criminality.
Raine, Buchsbaum and Lacasse conducted research to investigate whether the brains of criminals differed from the
brains of non-criminals. Through PET scanning they found that the brains of criminals had reduced activity in the
pre-frontal cortex and differing levels of activity in the amygdala. Although this provides one possible explanation for
criminality, it would be reductionist to think that biology is the single cause of criminality. Studies by Farrington and
theory by Sutherland suggests that our family and friends will impact upon our behaviour, and if these role models
are negative, possibly lead to criminality. Similarly Palmer and Hollin focus on cognition and ignore any possible
biological explanations for crime, however they provide a more detailed explanation for criminality based upon
erroneous thinking patterns typical of criminals, and so Palmer and Hollin could be said to be positively reductionist.
Wikstrom and Tafel conducted more holistic research to investigate what individual factors and
socio-cultural/situational factors could lead to criminality. They concluded that individual factors (such as anti-social
values) and situational factors (such as poor parental nurture) were significant in developing criminality.
In conclusion, reductionist research which focuses solely on cognition, biology or cultural factors cannot provide a full
explanation for criminality. Although they provide an explanation for single elements, more holistic research is
required to gain a full insight into the cause of criminality. Research that is reductionist is not necessarily negative
however, as criminality is perhaps too complex to study holistically and maybe it must be simplified down into
individual components or explanations in order to have a full, holistic explanation of crime.


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