Theories of Crime

Biological Theories of Crime

Biological predisposition to crime influenced by genetics, hormones, neurochemicals 

Lombroso (1836-1909)

  • Homo-delinquents (physical and psychological features)


  • Goring - 3000 convicts compared to 3000 non-criminals
  • Reductionist
  • Prejudice

NOS1 Gene - aggression in animals

  • Generalised to humans (+/-)
  • Variant of NOS1 links to human aggression
  • Crime is relative to culture + context
    • e.g. killing in a war/killing in the street
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Psychological Theories of Crime

Bowlby's Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis (MDH)

  • lack warm, intimate, continuous relationship with mother figure
  • link to criminality (behavioural problems in later life)

The 44 Thieves

  • 86% of affectionless psychopaths separated from mothers, 4% of control group


  • supports MDH and link between separation and psychopathy
    • correlation - one does not cause the other
  • Retrospective
    • reliable? accuracy of memory is questionable?
  • Did not receive same quality of care - suffer more?
  • Not all studies found deprivation leads to maladjustment
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Social Learning Theories of Crime

Criminal behaviours are learnt through observation and imitation 

  • role models are family, friends, media...
  • direct/indirect reinforcement (seeing someone else be rewarded/being rewarded themself)


  • Natural Born Killers inspired crime (Nathan Martinez watched film then murdered his step mother and 10 y/o sister)
  • Lab experiments (Bandura's Bobo's) lack ecological validity
  • Natural experiments mostly find same thing
    • Williams
      • physical & verbal aggression doubled after TV introduced (Canada)
    • Prof. Freedman
      • Japan has most violent imagery on TV, one of lowest murder rates
  • Correlation doesnt infer cause and effect but suggests a link
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