Theories of Crime


Biological Approach

In reference to the nature V nurture debate, the biological approach would suggest that genes that are passed on from your parents make you a criminal 

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Behaviourist approach

In reference to the Nature V Nurture debate, the beaviourist apporach would suggest that your behaviour is learned from the environment. 

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Lombroso's Theory

Proposed a theory on facial characteristics. 

Characteristics include:

  • shifty eyes
  • fleshly lips
  • big noses 

This is known as atavism. 

Different types of crime are committed by different criminals disinguished by certain characteristics.

Criminals are born not made.

Didn't compare his theory with a control group, he onky studied criminals and skulls of criminals. Problem because non- criminals may have these characteristics.  

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Goring (1913)

Doesn't support Lambroso. 

Studied the physical features of thousands of English prisoners. 

Found no distinictive facial characteristics 

Found a common factor of low intelligence 

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Ethical problems with Lombroso

Suggests people with the proposed characterisics are criminals. 

Suggest you are unable to escpae your destiny of being a criminal. 

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Sheldon's Samatotypes

Physiologcal explanation of crime. 

Endomorphs; relaxed, sociable people with a round body 

Ectomorphs; intelligent, thin and delicate people 

LEAST likely to be criminals. 

Mesomorphs; energetic people who are strong and muscly. 

Most likely to be criminals due to muscular build which makes them more self-assertive and more likely to engage in criminal behaviour.

Sheldon- in rehabilitation centre most criminals were mesomorphs. 

Realationship between mesomorphs and criminalty OR otherway round; being delinguent makes you muscly to have an advantage. 

Excess of testosterone- more violent. 

Look violent- people treat you that way (Labelling). 

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Criticising Sheldon

People's somatotypes are not fixed. We change throughtout our life (such as in out health) and these changes could affect our personality. 

Only focused on criminals.

Explained how mesomorphs are criminals but not explaining how ectomorphs and endomorphs could also be. 

Link to Lombroso: Ignore social and economic factors. Don't use a control group and so derease reliability. 

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Genetic explanations

Criminality runs in families. 

Osborn and West- 13% of sons with non criminals fathers had criminals records. 20% of sons with criminal fathers had criminals records. 

Gender bias as it assumes criminality is a lae thing. 

Farrington- young mother and living in a bad neighbourhood increases the probability of fathers and sons being arrested. 

BOTH genetic and environmental factors 

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Ishukawa and Raine (twins)

Concordance rate:

44%- identical twins

21.6%- faterna twins 

stronger genetic basis in criminality in identical twins who have the same genes 

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Ratz et al

Association between one varient of the 5-HTTLPR gene and violent behaviour.

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Criticising genes

Cannot provide a full explation for behaviour as it's hard to see what genes make you criminal. 

Hard to distinguish gene effects from the environment. 

Ethical problems: If genes make you criminal should we punish people if they can't help but be criminal. 

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Psychological theory. 

Individuals inherit a type of nervous system which affects their ability to adapt to the environment. 

Personality is made up of...

Introversion/extraversion: people who are outgoing and more likely to take risks. 

Neuroticism/stability: anxious people who are emotionally unstable. 

Based on the asumption that theres differences in peoples ability to learn (little evidence for). 

Cause/effect is not clear cut. 

Assumes that personality is constant and unchanging, however people change all the time. 

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Conclusion of Theories of Crime

Theories ignore role of society and culture 

Each theory aims to explain crime in a reductionist way, but the real cases of crime are varied and complicated.

Better to take a interactionist approach, seeing a number of things causing criminal behaviour. 

Gender bias (focusing on men and applying the same theories to women) 

Ethical issues: place the blame for offending inside the offender- social inequality and poverty may play a part. 

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