Forensic - Turning To Crime - Biology

  • interaction of some biological predispositions with environmental influences can explain individual differences we see where only some 'at risk' individuals take the step into the criminal behaviour while peers stop short
  • genes, hormones, neurology, gender, pathology, and evolutionary explanations
  • genetic variation may be responsible for causing differences in an individuals levels of aggression which may lead to violent crime
  • cases reported where a brain tumour has been implicated in changing the personality of an individual from a well-behaved, caring person to a violent and uncontrolled individual 
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Raine (2002)

Aim: To take a multi-factorial approach to understanding anti-social and aggressive behaviour in children with a biological focus

Method: A review article. Review and summarise findings from a selection of articles covering neuropsychological, neurological and brain imagery studies and report the findings as they relate to anti-social behaviour through child's development

Key results: Low resting heart rate, good predictor of individuals who seek excitement to raise arousal levels, creating fearless temperament. Adolescent brain still forming final connections in pre-frontal lobes until early 20's. Activity in pre-frontal lobes shown to be lower in impulsive individuals likely to be anti-social and aggressive. Offending peaks during adolescence. Birth complications and poor parenting with physical abuse and malnutrition, smoking and drinking during pregnancy all add to risk

Conclusions: Early intervention and prevention may be one effective way of reversing biological deficits that predispose to anti-social and aggressive behaviour

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Raine (2002)


Evaluation Points: 

  • determinism vs. free will
  • nature vs. nurture
  • psychology as a science 
  • individual vs. situational

Method issues:

  • replicated from previous studies, know it is reliable
  • review article from other research, reliable
  • extraneous variables may arise

Scientific and grounded hard science. provides substantial evidence for nature. 

Reductionist - reaction between chemical and neurons, ignores interaction of other elements. Cannot explain how body and mind interact. 

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Bruner (1993)

Aim: to explain the behaviour of a large family where the males are affected by a syndrome of borderline mental retardation and abnormal violent behaviour; impulsive aggression, arson, attempted ****, and exhibitionism

Sample: 5 affected males from same Deutsch family

Method: Case study - data were collected from analysis of urine samples over 24hr period 

Key Results: tests show disturbed monoamine metabolism associated with deficit of enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA). In each of the 5 males, point mutation was identified in the X chromosome of the gene responsible for production of MAOA

Conclusions: MAOA is involved in seretoin metabolism. Deficit in gene (leading to impaired seretoin metabolism) responsible for mental retardation in family. MAOA deficiency in family associated with a recognisable behaviourable phenotype - inability to regulate aggression. Not all of the males affected by violent behaviour

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Bruner (1993)


Evaluation Points:

  • determinism vs. free will
  • reductionism vs. holism 
  • nature vs. nurture
  • psychology as a science
  • individual vs. situational

Method issues:

  • ethnocentric - only one family
  • centred on point of view, no other explanations

scientific, grounded in hard science. could be high in validity as there are scientific results.

rare, cannot generalise from family sample. reductionist - basing on one family and one gene, will not be the same for all males with this gene

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Daly & Wilson (2001)

Aim: to find out if homicide rates would vary as a function of local life expectancy in Chicago, a city divided in 77 long standing community areas or neighbourhoods with relatively stable boundaries and social and economic characteristics

Method: A correlational study using survey data from police records, school records and local demographic records collected by population census

Procedure: the study examined local communities in Chicago which had lower than average male life expectancies, varying from 54.3 to 77.3 years, and plotted various correlations between collected data

Key Results: life expectancy proved to be best predictor of neighbourhood-specific homicide rates. Ranged from 1.3 to 156 homicides per 100,000 people per annum. Correlation strongly negative (-0.88). Neighbourhood-specific rate of absenteeism from school was negatively correlated with life expectancy. Parents are unwilling to invest in their child's education by enforcing attendance because they are also operating on a short-time horizon

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Daly & Wilson (2001)


Evaluation Points: 

  • longitudinal vs. snapshot
  • nature vs. nurture
  • individual vs. situational 

Method Issues:

  • ethnocentric - only looking at Chicago 
  • population census is just a snapshot at the population at that time, does not look past or before that point 
  • cannot prove one variable makes a change in another

reliable second-hand data. substantial evidence for nature in the nature/nurture debate.

reductionist - only looks at life expectancy in correlation with homicide rates, does not look at other variables. simplifies complex human behaviour

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