AC2.1 - Describe Biological Theories Of Criminality


Cesare Lombroso (1876)

  • Studied characterology (the relation between mental and physical characteristics) 
  • Inspired by evolution and genetic studies 
  • Proposed that certain criminals had physical evidence of an 'ATAVISTIC' form 
  • Criminals were BORN not MADE 
  • Viewed criminals as 'throwbacks' 
  • Atavistic - biological characteristics from an earlier stage of human development manifested as a tendency to commit crime (unable to control impulses and a reduced sensitivity to pain - which is why they often have tattoos 
  • Observed that the physical shape of head and face determined the 'born criminal' 
  • Examples and comparisons of almost 400 non-criminal Italian soldiers and '90 lunatics', he found there was a number of physical defects' - distinguishing features of criminality 
  • High cheekbones, flattened or upturned nose, handle-shaped ears (monkey-like), long arms, large chin, hawk-like noses, fleshy lips, hard shifty eyes, scanty beard or baldness, excessive wrinkle on skin, insensitivity to pain 
  • Examined facial and criminal features of 383 dead criminals and 3,839 living ones - concluded that 40% of criminal acts could be accounted for by atavistic characteristics 
  • Also proposed that different types of criminals had different physical features and you could tell what kind of crime would be committed by examining the way they look        i.e.: 
  • Thief - expressive face, manual dexterity, small wandering eyes 
  • Habitual (serial) murderers - cold, glassy stare, bloodshot eyes, curly hair (often), big hawk-like nose 
  • Rapists & Sex Offenders - thick lips, protruding ears 'jug ears' 
  • Labelled people - more likely to commit a crime 
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Somatotypes - William Sheldon (1949)

  • Linked body shape to personality 
  • Believed that people could be classified into 3 different body shapes which corresponded with 3 different personality traits 
  • Suggested there was a correlation between body type and overall temperament (someone's nature) 
  • Ectomorph - Temperament: introverted and inward thinking, emotionally restrained, self-conscious, thoughtful, afraid of people        Shape: little body fat, narrow chest, shoulders, and hips, thin-faced, lean, fragile, delicate body, droopy shoulders 
  • Mesomorph - Temperament: enjoy and seeks physical activity, assertive and domineering, active, adventurous and sensation seeking and dynamic        Shape: little body fat, muscular body, wide shoulders and narrow hips, strong limbs, hard-bodied, large trunk, heavy chest, large wrists and hands 
  • Endomorph - Temperament: sociable, relaxed, comfortable, outgoing, love comfort, food and affection        Shape: high percent of body fat, wide hips, pear-shaped, can have a lot of fat on body, arms, and thighs, velvety skin, short tapering limbs, lacking muscle and tone, short and round 
  • Mesomorph most likely to commit crime - addicted to danger -- adrenaline 
  • Nature + Nurture 
  • Domineering personality - deterministic  
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Family, Twin and Adoption Studies

  • Heredity 
  • Family Studies - looks at families and sees if there are patterns of criminal behaviour              Osborne and West (1982) compared the sons of criminal and non-criminal fathers.                40% of sons with criminal fathers had criminal convictions VS 13% of sons with non-criminal fathers.                                                                                                                                           ? More likely to commit crime with a father who is criminal. 
  • Twin Studies - looks at twins that have been raised together in the same house/environment  Monozygotic (MZ) twins - Identical - 100% same genes.                                                                Dizygotic (DZ) twins - Non-identical (fraternal) - 50% same genes.                                                Johannes Lange (1929) found that 10/13 MZ twins had both served time in prison, whereas 2/17 twins had.                                                                                                                                Christiansen's study of 3,586 twin pairs in Denmark found: 52% CR / chance that where one twin had a conviction, the other would too, but there was only a 22% chance for DZ twins.           ? If environment is taken away, would twins commit crime - one and then the other. 
  • Adoption Studies - looks at children who share the same biological parents but have been raised in a separate house/environment to each other. This separates nature from nurture. Therefore, if the child is more similar to their biological parent rather than their adoptive parent - genes to influence criminal behaviour                                                                                            Mednick (1984) looked at 14,427 court convictions of adopted children. The criminal records of biological and adoptive parents were then investigated and then compared:                                Adopted children with criminal biological fathers had received criminal records for theft. This was even true where siblings had been separated and raised in different adoptive homes.          If the adoptive father had a conviction - the adoptee had a 10% chance of receiving a criminal conviction. This rose to a 21% chance if the biological father had a conviction.                             ? Would adopted people still commit crime if brought up in a home with no crime - take away environment.  
  • Twins: Concordance Rate (%) - 52%                                                                                              - Probability/likelihood of both twins being criminal                           
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The Extra Y Hypothesis

  • The Y chromosome identifies male gender 
  • Suspected that abnormality in male chromosome such as having an extra Y chromosome might 'hyper masculinise' men as 'super males' 
  • Men who have XYY chromosome are especially aggressive and more likely to commit crime 
  • Symptoms: taller than average, acne, increased risk of learning problems, (normal fertility) 
  • Jacobs found the incidence of the XYY disorder (males with an extra Y) was 20 times higher among inmates in a Scottish prison than in the general Scottish population. The extra Y chromosome causes males to be unusually tall, aggressive and violent and have a low level of IQ. Price and Whatmore found XYY males to immature and unstable. 'Supermales' are believed to be prone to extremely violent heinous crime 
  • Criminals over the world have been found to have the extra Y chromosome. In some cases, this has been used as a legal defence 
  • Arthur Shawcross & Richard Speck: Richard murdered 8 nurses in Chicago                            He had a lengthy criminal records and the physical stigmata associated with the chromosomal pattern (tall, lean, lanky, pimpled)                                                                 The extra Y hypothesis was used as a defence for his criminality, however, it was formed that Speck did not have the extra Y chromosome 
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Neurophysiology (The Brain)

  • Raine (1997) investigated to see if criminals have a different brain to non-criminals 
  • Looked at P.E.T. scans of violent offenders 
  • He used 41 American prisoners and matched them with 41 'normal' people 
  • 6 of the prisoners were schizophrenic and 23 had suffered head injuries 
  • The schizophrenics were matched with the schizophrenic people from the general population 
  • Results showed that violent offenders had less activity in their frontal and parietal lobes 
  • The front lobe is responsible for self-control whilst the parietal lobe handles verbal ability and learning 
  • Raine concluded that brain structure influences behaviour and therefore these differences support a neurological element to criminal behaviour 
  • Specifically, they suggested that violent criminals may have:                                                        Malfunctioning amygdala: Violence is linked to unusual emotional responses possibly a lack of fear                                                                                                                                              Faulty hippocampus: Crime is the result of the inability to learn from mistakes - so they are likely to keep carrying out the same crime                                                                                  Low activity in corpus callosum: Problems with spotting long-term consequences of behaviour - so unaware of how their criminal behaviour will affect victims/other people          Low activity in prefrontal cortex: Deals with rational thought and moral judgment - so they are likely to be impulsive and are unable to understand right/wrong behaviours 
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Biochemical Explanations

  • Blood Sugar Levels 
  • Sex Hormones                                                                                                                                - Testosterone                                                                                                                                  - Post Menstrual Tension, Postnatal Depression, Lactation  
  • Substance Abuse                                                                                                                            - Legal = Alcohol and Glues                                                                                                            - Medically Prescribed = Barbiturates                                                                                              - Illegal = Cannabis, MDMA, LSD, Heroin, Cocaine    
  • Serotonin 
  • Steroids 
  • Other Substances                                                                                                                            - Food Additives and Diet, Allergens, Vitamin Deficiencies, Lead Pollution                                    - Vitamin B Deficiency 
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Biological Theories - Explain Causes of Criminal B

  • Sheldon                                                                                                                                          - Body type (somatotype)                                                                                                                - Predictable behaviour                                                                                                                  - 60% Mesomorph                                                                                                                      VS                                                                                                                                                    - 3% Delinquent 
  • Lombroso                                                                                                                                        - Facial features                                                                                                                              - Atavistic e.g. high cheekbones, large chin 
  • Raine                                                                                                                                              - Brain dysfunctions                                                                                                        Amygdala                                                                                                                              Corpus Callosum                          
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