Turning to Crime - G543


Disrupted Families

  • The family we are brought up in can influence whether or not we turn to crime
  • The earlier we turn to crime, the more likely we are to have a criminal life for many years
  • Children from disrupted families are more likely to turn to crime
  • People who have a convicted parent, high daring, a delinquent sibling, a young mother, low popularity, disrupted families and a large family size are more likely to turn to crime
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Farrington's Study

Aim: To identify the risk factors predicting offending behaviour

Design: A longitudinal study with interviews

Participants: 411 boys from South London


  • 161 participants had convictions
  • Boys who commited crime between 10 and 13 had reoffending rates of 91%
  • Persisters were highly daring, had a young mother and were from a disrupted family

Conclusions: The most common risk factors were poverty, poor school performance, impulsivity, poor child rearing and criminal parents

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Learning From Others

  • Criminal Behaviour is learned not inherited
  • It is learned via interaction with others
  • The largest influence comes from intimate personal groups
  • Learning criminal behaviour in this way includes learning the tricks of the trade
  • An individual is also influenced by what they regard as favourable and unfavourable
  • The principle of "differential association" comes into play with those who make repeated criminal links in their processing of laws
  • Learning criminal behaviour by association is a process of learning like any other
  • Criminal Behaviour is an expression of needs and values
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Aker's Study

Aim: To test the social learning theory on teenage drinking and drug usage

Method: Self Report (Questionnaire)

Participants: 2500 Americans aged 13-18


  • Strong support for the SLT of teen drinking and drug behaviour
  • Predictor variables are a strong explanation for teen drinking and drug use (explains 55% of drinking behaviour and 68% of marijuana behaviour)

Conclusions: Supports Sutherlands Theory

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Poverty and Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods

Broken Windows Theory = If you see someone commit a crime you are more likely to commit the same crime

5 main factors leading to criminality:

  • Family Social Position - class, ethnicity
  • Individual characteristics - morals, beliefs and self control
  • Social Situation - family/school bonds
  • Lifestyle and Routine Activities - sports or clubs
  • Community context - oppurtunities, school attendence

Criminality occurs die to the environment they are brought up in and their personal characteristics.

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Wikstrom and Taifel

Aim : To study a range a factors and identify which are the most significant in predicting future criminality in people

Method: Snapshot study with interviews

Participants: 2000 Petersborough year 10 Students

Results: Violent offenders are more likely to be victims of violence

  • Offenders are more likely to drink and use drugs than other youths
  • Individual characteristics and lifestyle affect involvement in crime
  • Weak family and social bonds
  • Weak morality and poor self control
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Criminal Thinking Patterns

  • Criminals think differently to non-criminals
  • Offenders have distinctive pathological thinking patterns
  • Criminals may not perceive certain behaviours as immoral or unlawful and instead see them as acceptable
  • Criminals may have more disregard for the system and less care about punishments they potentially face
  • RATIONAL CHOICE THEORY - offenders rationally choos to commit crimes based on a cost-benefit analysis
  • This does not explain crimes of great violence or sexual assault where the benefit would seem to be slight but the costs are very great
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Yochelson and Samenow

AimTo investigate whether criminals cognition differs to that of non-criminals

Participants: 255 Participants although only 30 completed the study.

Methods: Longitudinal Study using interviews of criminals who had pleaded insanity,

Findings52 different thinking errors were identified. The 52 were categorised in to 3 main categories:

  • Crime-related thinking errors
  • Automatic thinking errors – for example a lack of empathy
  • Criminal thinking patterns – for example the need for power and control
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Moral Development

Moral development has been studied in children and the findings applied to criminals - morals are a set of values that children learn during their upbringing usually instilled by their parents or carers. These make children knowledgable about what is right or wrong and if someone knows their actions are wrong they can be held liable for them.  Children learn the difference between right and wrong at different ages and different countries have different ages for this.  Morals develop over time and so different children have different levels of morality.  It could hence be suggested that individuals turn to crime as their adoption of morality was interrupted.   

Ages of criminal responsibility: 

  • UK = 10 years of age
  • Scotland = 8 years of age
  • Germany = 14 years of age
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Kohlberg's Study

Aim:  to find evidence to support his theory that moral development progresses through stages.

Participants:  72 boys from Chicago aged 10, 13 and 16

Method:  interviews

Procedure:  each participant was given ten hypothetical moral dilemma's to solve.

Results:  Kohlberg's theory outlined three levels of morality.  Pre--morality, conventional morality and post conventional morality each with two stages.  Results confirmed that younger boys were operating at earlier stages of morality (Stage 1 out of fear of punishment or Stage 2 for personal gain).  Older boys typically operated at later stages (Stage 3 doing right to be good or Stage 4 obeying laws out of duty).

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Social Cognition

Social cognition refers to the way our thoughts are influenced by the people we mix with.  In offender behaviour the crime is the social context and so it is important to understand what a criminal is thinking when they commit the crime so faulty cognitions can be found and treated.  Cognitive dissonance can occur in individuals when they have two conflicting ideas or thoughts in their head, such as "I am a good person" and "I have just hurt somone" and this cognitive dissonance creates a tendency in offenders to blame their victims.  What the criminal is thinking is dependent on whether the crime is commited individually or in a group or gang and criminals make blame attributions about crime to reduce feelings of guilt or personal responsibility they may have.

Internal blame attribution is when someone blames their actions on their own decisions.  

External blame attribution is when someone blames their actions on external factors such as the weather.  

The fundamental attribution error is a term used for when we make an incorrect external attribution, for example, blaming robbing a bank on the fact that it was raining that day.  

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Gudjohnsson's Study

Aim:  to investigate the possible relationship between types of offence and offenders attributions about their behaivour and to make comparisons with previous research on an English sample of convicted offenders.

Participants:  80 convicted offenders serving sentences in Northern Ireland.  20 violent offenders (eg homicide and GBH),, 40 sex offenders (rapists, paedophiles and other sexual assaults) and 20 property offenders (theft, burgulary)

Procedure:  the participants filled out a questionnaire (Gudjohnsson-Bownes attribution inventory) with 42 items identifying first the offence, second the attribution of blame (internal or external), thirdly the mental element and lastly the offenders guilt levels.

Results:  sex offenders expressed the most remorse followed by violent offenders.  There was little difference across offence types regarding mental element and high scores on external attributions were from violent offenders and lowest for sex offenders.  The results were consistent with English findings. 

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Brain Dysfunction

  • certain brain structures inside the brain control certain behaviours, eg, empathy.
  • people without these brain structures may be heartless, impulsive and have no sense of right or wrong.
  • aggressive behaviour that is connected to criminal behaviour can arise due to damage due to the brain via accidents or foetal damage.
  • damage to the pre-frontal lobe has been linked with aggressive behaviour and violence which is indicated through low activity in the pre-frontal lobe recorded through a PET scan.
  • the Amygdala and the Hypothalamus is primarily responsible for our emotional life.
  • if either of these parts are damaged this can result in excessive impulsive behaviour and fear which can be linked to criminal behaviour.
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Raine's Study

Aim:  to use PET scans to measure cortical and sub-cortical brain functioning in murderers.

Method:  lab experiment.

Participants:  41 NGRI's (not guilty for reason of insanity) and 41 controls who were selected to match age and gender.

Procedure:  the NGRI's were compared with the controls on the level of activity (glucose metabolism) in the right and left hemispheres of the brain in 14 selected area's using PET scans.  

Findings:  compared to the controls the NGRI's were found to have less activity in their pre-frontal areas in the amygdala and hippocampus compared to the controls, the NGRI's had less activity in the left side and more activity in the right side.

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Genes and Serotonin

  • genes are the building blocks of DNA and they tell our bodies how to grow and develop.
  • genes can give people certain pre-dispositions, eg, a pre-disposition towards criminal activity.
  • genes may give someone a predisoposition to take risks, not think about consequences, be aggressive or behave selfishly.
  • serotonin is a hormone operating in the brain called a neurotransmitter..
  • serotonin regulates our mood, sleep patterns, keeps us sexually healthy and fights off depression.
  • people with high levels of serotonin show more restraint and think things through but people with low levels act first and think later.   
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Brunner's Study

AIm:  The research aimed to study and understand the behaviou of the males in a large family in the Netherlands. 

Method:  Quasi experiment. 

Participants:  5 males from the family in the Netherlands, all of whom have the same genetic condition which was later called Brunner Syndrome.

Findings:  All the males acted aggressively when angry, fearful or frustrated.  A base change in the DNA structure was identified in all 5 males.  This in turn resulted in flawed monoamine metabolism, which is linked with a deficit of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA).  The reason only males are affected is because it is specifically the single X chromosome which  is responsible for the production of MAOA.

It is important to note that not all the males in the family were afflicted with the inability to control their aggression even if they suffered mental retardation.

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  • A biological feature of crime is that it is largely carried out by men.  Male offenders out number female offenders in the UK by 4 to 1.  
  • Parents usually encourage boys to be aggressive, daring and law breaking, whilst girls are socialised into being quiet, conforming and law abiding. 
  • In the past risk taking males reproduce successfully and passed on their risk taking behaviour through evolutionary biology.
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Daly and Wilson's Study

Aim:  To examine age and gender patters in crime and violence.

Method:  Research article

Participants:  No participants as data from homicide cases was analysed

Procedure: The study reviewed homicidal conflicts in Detriot analysing the age and gender of the perpetrators and victims.

Findings›Homicide was overwhelmingly a male affair. Victim and offender populations were almost identical – unemployed, unmarried young men were greatly overrepresented. It was found that most homicides concern status competition (showing off, jealousy, retaliation). Daly and Wilson also argued other sorts of risks such as daredevilry, gambling – masculine pursuits aided by peers doing the same thing. Males committed most crimes when they were in the stereotypical age of finding a partner – mid to late 20’s

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