Theories of crime


  • Crime: an action which constitutes an offense and is punishable by law.
  • Earliest theories of criminology suggested that a criminal had specific features.
  • Lombroso (1876) belived that individuals with a sloping forehead, prominent eye ridges, large ears, high cheek bones and fleshy lips were primitive throwbacks and wer eborn criminal. Suggested that these individuals had not fully descended from apes. 
  • However, nowadays this could be classed as racist as he would discriminate against people with black skin as thes eindividulas fit his description.
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Biological theories

  • Effect of hormones. Known that males produce 10x more testosterone than women. Dabbs et al (1997) discovered that male prisoners convicted of violent crimes had higher testosterone levels that those convicted of non-violent crimes. Shows hormones have an affect on the aggressivness of people, those who are more aggressive have a high risk of commiting crimes.
  • Dabbs and Hargrove (1997) found that females convicted of violent crimes had higher testosterone levels than those convicted of non-violent crimes. Shows not a gender bias in research.
  • However, these were weak patterns, suggesting other factors also impact criminal behaviour.
  • Effect of genes. Retz et al (2004) found an association between a variant of 5-HTTLPR gene and violent behaviour. Indicates that some people are born mroe aggressive due to their genetic make-up.
  • Brunner et al (1993) studied a dutch family, many of whom were aggressive. Their behaviour was linked to a mutation of the gene for monoamine oxidase type A, which helps recyle serotonin. Since the mutation was associated with lack of the enzyme, logically it would produce a reduction in aggression as serotinin would not be broken down. 
  • Indicates genes dont play a part in effecting people level of violence as this shows that the familys aggression was not due to genes, indicating other factors are responsible for criminal behaviour.
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Psychological theories

  • Self-fulfilling prophecy - stereotyping leads to the observed changing their behaviour to meet the stereotype. Usually due to false beliefs held by the observer.
  • Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) conducted a study which included elementary school children. Children did a test and teachers were told some wer ebaove average when they were not. At the end of the year, those who teacher believed were above average had improved faster and showed better social skills. It is thought that the teacher responded to them differently, such as giving them more feedback. 
  • However, may not be reliable. Observation (children showing social skills) - experimenter bias. Also only uses children at school so cannot generalise it to adults and commiting crimes.
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Social theories

  • Social learning theory.
  • Bandura (1977) - observer must pay attention, be able to remember and also reproduce what they have observed and be motivated to do so.
  • Can be linked to criminality as children whose parents are criminals are likely to be internally and externally motivated to do a similar action. Can see other people benifitting from crimes so will be vicariously reinfoced to immitate. 
  • Eron et al (1972) found a positive correlation between the level of violence in TV programmes watched by 7 and 8 year olds and their aggressiveness. Shows environment has an impacr of the level of violence and number of crimes committed by certain individuals. However, doesnt state how closely related these 2 things are.
  • Conclusion - many theories of criminality which goes back to the 1800s. 3 main theories are social, biological and psychological. All have supporting evidence.
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