Theories of Crime


Biological Theories of Crime

Biological theories suggest that some people are biologically predisposed to criminal type behaviour. 


Homo-delinquents - separate, more primitive form of human:

  • Narrow sloping brow (low intellect)
  • Prominent jaw (strong passion), high cheekbones, large ears
  • Extra *******, toes, fingers
  • Incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, no guilt, no depth of relationships with others

It was suggested that the females of this species were psychologically worse still. 

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Evaluation of Lombroso

:-( Deterministic- some people are born criminals

:-( Reductionist- ignores the role of the environment/ nurture

:-( No supporting evidenceGoring compared 3000 convincts with 3000 non criminals and found no difference in features

:-( Encourages prejudice 

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Psychological Theories of Crime

Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis - Bowlby 

This stated that if an infant is unable to develop a 'warm, intimate and continous relationship with his mother (or mother substitute) then the child would have difficulty forming relationships with other people and would be at risk of behavioural disorders.

Bowlby claimed that 'mother love in infancy and childhood is as important for mental health as vitamins and proteins are for physical health'

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44 Thieves

Bowlby looked at 88 children aged 5 - 16 who had been admitted to a child guidance clinic.

44 had been referred as a result of stealing, of which 16 were identified as affectionless psychopaths.

The remaining 44 had not committed any crimes, but were emotionally maladjusted. None were affectionless psychopaths. 

Findings   86% of affectionless psychopaths had experienced early and prolonged separations from their mothers

Only 17% of the non-affectionless psychopath thieves had experienced such separations

Only 4% of the non-thieves (control groups) had experienced such separations 

Conclusions There is a link between early separation and later social & emotional maladjustment

In its most severe form, this leads to affectionless psychopathy; in a less severe form it leads to antisocial behaviour. - SUPPORTS MATERNAL DEPRIVATION HYPOTHESIS

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Evaluation of the Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis

:-) The maternal deprivation hypothesis was very influential in that it had an enormous influence on how children are treated

:-( The evidence is correlational; deprivation/ separation and affectionless psychopathy are linked, but one does not necessarily cause the other

:-( Data was collected retrospectively, and may not be reliable. The accuracy of memories is questionable, and the quality of the care participants received during separation periods is unkown. 

:-( In the studies on deprivation, the children may be deprived in many ways, other than just maternal deprivation.

:-( Not all studies on deprivation have found that deprivation leads to maladjustment. 

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Social Theories of Crime

Social Learning Theory 

Bandura - the learner observes and imitates another- the model (a person that the individual identifies with)

Important role models- family, peers, media

Motivation to imitate behaviours may come from direct reinforcement (gains from theft, etc) or indirect (seeing others reinforced for such behaviour- vicarious reinforcement

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Examples of SLT

  • Southern Georgia couple watched Natural Born Killers 19 times, then embarked on a crime spree of carjacking, theft, kidnapping and murder. Beasley shaved his head like Micket's, and the two lovers used the names Mickey and Mallory in correspondence with each other after they were apprehended. 
  • Following the arrest of James Bulger's killers, two young boys, it was found that one had recently watched 'Chucky', certain aspects of this film appeared to be seen in the violent actions taken against the boy. 
  • After the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy and MLK Jr, the number of threats against prominent government figures jumped more than fivefold. 
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Evaluation of SLT

:-( One problem is that lab experiments, like Bandura's, may not represent real life acquisition of criminal behaviour- lack of ecological validity. 

Eron et al - found positive correlation between the levels of violent in TV programmes watched by 7-8 year olds and their aggressiveness. By adulthood, those who watched more violenct were more likely to be violent criminals.

:-( Cannot infer cause and effect relationship.

Natural Experiments - Williams - level of physical & verbal aggression of children almost doubled following the introduction of TV to a Canadian town.

:-) Supports the role of the media in learning anti-social behaviour

:-( In contrast, Charlton et al found no increase in antisocial behaviour following intro of TV to St Helana island

:-( Evidence is correlational- cannot infer cause and effect relationship

:-( Therefore, evidence on the role of media in contributing to criminal behaviour is mixed. 

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Evaluation of Bandura

The fact that in Bandura's study, boys were more likely to imitate physical aggression, whereas girls were more likely to imitate verbal aggression suggets that there are factors other than models that determine which specific acts are imitated. 


Can explain how anti-social behaviour in one culture can travel around the world as people watch their heroes on television, in films or on video games, and copy their actions.

This has implications for violence in the media and is a strong argument for those trying to stop media violence. 

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