Theories of crime

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Cesare Lombroso (1876)

  • He proposed that people are born with an innate predisposition to behave antisocially. Criminals are a separate species called 'homodelinquents'. They have narrow sloping foreheads, prominant eye ridges, large ears and a protuding chin.
  • Lombroso believed these 'sub-humans were not capable of adjusting to normal societies life, and this is why they behaved criminally'.
  • This theory has been heavily criticised and is out-dated. Lombroso himself retreated from the assertion that all criminals were evolutionary throw-backs, despite still believing the accounted for a third of the criminal population.
  • The correlation found by Lombroso between criminality and certain characteristics doesn't imply causality. Lombroso's sample also contained a large number of mentally ill people and was also therefore biased.
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William Sheldon

  • Believed that people could be classified into three body types which are linked to personality; Ectomorphs (thin and fragile), Endomorphs (fat and soft) and Mesomorphs (muscular and hard).
  • Sheldon et al (1949) conducted a correlational study and found that many convicts were mesomorphs and were least likely to be ectomorphs.
  • Research by Glueck and Glueck (1956) found that 60% of their delinquent sample were mesomorphs compared to 31% of their non-delinquent sample.
  • Whilst there is no doubt research supports the idea that criminals are more likely to be muscular it remains unclear what the association is.
  • There is also no evidence to show whether they were a mesomorph before engaging in criminal activity, it may be a consequence of being in prison.
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XYY Syndrome

  • In the 1960's a new explanation of violent crime emerged. It is based on a genetic mutation in which a sufferer has an extra Y chromosome, changing the chromosome number to 47 rather than the usual 46.
  • The presence of an extra Y occurs in 1 in 1,000 of the population
  • In prisons there are 15 sufferers per 1,000
  • Price et al (1966) found that 28% of men in a scottish state hospital for the criminally insane were XYY.
  • Jacobs et al (1995) suggested that men with XYY were more aggressive.
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Twin studies

  • Monozygotic twins (MZ) are genetically identical whereas Dizygotic twins (DZ) are no more alike than any two siblings. By studying identical twins the extent to which something has a genetic cause can be studied.
  • Christianson (1977) studied 3586 sets of Danish twins. He found a concordance rate of 35% in MZ twins compared to 13% in DZ twins.
  • Studies like this highlight that there is a genetic factor to criminality, however it is not the only factor. If it were completely genetic then concordance rates between MZ twins should be 100%.
  • Twin research however has the limitation that it is difficult to distinguish between genes and environment because they are often brought up in the same environment and share the same experiences.
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Social Learning Theory

  • Bandura (1963) identified three main influences on behaviour; external reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement and self-reinforcement. Bandura's work was focused on observational learning of aggression. Bandura found that having witnessed adults behaving violently towards a doll, the children were more likely to do the same. This highlights the importance of environmental influence on behaviour.
  • Studies like this lack ecological validity because of the artifical setting they were conducted in.
  • The theory can explain why criminal behaviour tends to run in families, however this will not be the sole factor. The theory is reductionist as it ignores the role of genetics and other circumstances such as deprivation.
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Psychodynamic Theory of Crime

  • Freud made no reference to crime himself, the theory was put forward by other psychoanalysts.
  • According to Alexander and Healy criminals are children who did not make the transition from being Id dominant to Ego dominant. Children need a stable home environment to make this transition.
  • A second theory is that during the reolution of the Oedipus complex when the same sex parents morals are internalised, internalising a criminals morals would result in a weak superego and low moral control. The same will occur if a father is absent or unloving.
  • However according to the psychodynamic approach women have weaker superego's, yet women still make up a smaller % of the prison population.
  • The approach is reductionist.
  • Many criminals have stable backgrounds and still commit crime.
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