Turning to Crime

Turning to Crime is divided into these three sections

- Upbringing 

- Biological Explanation 

- Cognitive Explanation

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Turning to Crime (Upbringing)

Explanation according to Upbringing is divided into three main sections

  • Disrupted Families
  • Learning From Others
  • Poverty and Disadvantaged Neighbourhood

Overall this explanation draws on the influence of upbringing- families, friends, teachers and general life experiences can influence whether an individual develops criminal behaviour or not. For example, turning to crime can be as a result of disrupted families. Evidence has supported intergenerational transmission of criminal behaviour. It is highly likely that a child with a convicted parent will also turn to crime. Hence this is a risk factors that highlights how situational factors can influence developing criminal behaviour. This is supported with the theory that criminal behaviour is learnt within intimate groups. This works with the disrupted families explanation because it shows that intimate groups such as families - parents- and friends who engage in criminal behaviour or activities can influence someone to turn to crime. While this explanation largely supports influence and upbringing, it can be argued that this only increases the propensity of turning to crime. Certain individual characteristics such as low self esteem, low level of control and shame alongside siituational factors are identified as risk factors that contribute to turning to crime.

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Turning to Crime- Upbringing- Disrupted Families

Farrington's study 

Aim: Investigating Intergenerational transmission of offending within families

Participants: 411 South London males, white, urban working class, started at age 8/9, surviving sample were 48 by the end of the study

  • Influence of life events, risk and protective factors 
  • Prospective and Longitudinal survey
  • Use of interviews [participants, parents, teachers], searches of criminal records 
  • Given tests on intelligence, attainment, personality and impulsivity 
  • 40% of sample convicted before 40.
  • Offending concentrated within families. 4% of 400 families accounted for 50% of convictions. [Genetic influence/ social learning theory]
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Turning to Crime- Upbringing- Disrupted Families

  • Convicted parent is a strong predictor of offending 
  • Offending decreases after 17 
  • Risk factors for offending; Low intelligence, Hyperactivity [ADHD], Impulsivity, convicted parents, rated as 'daring', poor parenting or poor families 


Farrington identifies possible social factors such as circumstances, influence and biological factors such as low intelligence and hyperactivity that may influence crime. Hence the conclusion of the study is based on a multi-causal theory. 

- Disrupted families and problem children lead to problem adults and the likelihood of a criminal lifestyle. 

- He proposed early intervention programmes for 10 year olds. 

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Turning to Crime- Upbringing- Disrupted Families I

Evaluation Points 

  • Reductionism/ Holism 
  • Usefulness 
  • Sample Bias/ Generalisability/ Ethnocentric
  • Design [Longitudinal, strengths and weakness of this design/ research] 
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Data [advantages and disadvantages of collecting this type of data]
  • Difficult to establish cause and effect [It's correlational data]
  • Validity 
  • Nature/ Nurture
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Turning to Crime- Upbringing- Learning from Others

This is a social explanation of why people turn to crime. Sutherland devised a theory known as the Differential Association Theory which explains why people turn to criminal Behaviour. 

Sutherland- 'Theory of Differential Association' 

  • Criminal Behaviour is learnt 
  • It is learnt in an interaction with people in a process of communication 
  • Learning of criminal behaviour occurs within intimate personal groups
  • It involves learning the techniques of committing crimes, motives, drives, rationalisations and attitudes. 
  • The individual develops a favourable or unfavourable definition of the law. Such as seeing it as pointless of discriminatory 
  • A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favourable to violation of the law over definitions unfavourable to violation of the law
  • The effect varies according to frequency, duration, priority and intensity of exposure to criminal activity. 
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Turning to Crime- Upbringing- Learning from Others

  • The process of learning criminal behaviour by association with criminal and anti-criminal patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are involved in any other learning, so a criminal has been socialised into being a criminal (all nature no nurture)


Sutherland believes that Criminal behaviour is learned through our daily interactions with friends and families. Crime is a learned behaviour and is not a result of biology or pathology, it isa result of our enviroment. Therefore you can change criminal behaviour by changing the enviroment into a non-criminal one. 


  • Validity (has no evidence to back the theory)
  • Useful 
  • Nature/ Nurture debate 
  • Determinism/ Free Will
  • Dispositional/ Situational    Behaviourist Perspective/ Social Approch
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Turning to Crime- Upbringing- Poverty and Disadvan

This study considers the effects of poverty or disadvantaged neighbourhoods on criminality and it attempts to identify risk factors that would be the best predictors of criminal behaviour in the future. (Social Explanation of Criminal Behaviour)

Per-Olof Wikstrom 'The Peterborough Adolescent Development Study' 

Aim: To identify key individual and enviromental factors which foster or deter offending during adolescence. 

Design: Longitudinal study, data was collected annually over 2000 young people that were randomly selected to form a cross section of the cohort which entered year 7 in 2002. Study started when they were aged 12/13 and finished when they were aged 15/16. The data covers three main topics: 

  • The individual
  • Enviroment 
  • Exposure to different enviroment

Method: Retrospective parent's questionnaire

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Turning to Crime- Upbringing- Poverty and Disadvan

Annual/ bi-annual young person's questionnaire, Psychometric exercises, The Peterborough Community Survey [postal questionnaire investigating different neighbourhoods in Peterborough]


  • Individual variables found included low self control and weak morality. This predicted participant's offending. Exposure to criminogenic enviroments (weak social cohesion) was related to offending. 
  • Exposure to criminogenic enviroments rather than a poor or disadvantaged neighbourhood is what leads to offending. 
  • Both individual and situational factors have an impact on offending. 
  • 44.8% and 30.6% of male and females have committed one of the following crimes: violence, vandalism and shoplifting. 
  • Key risk factors: weak family, poor parental monitoring, weak morality and low levels of shame.
  • Participants with greater individual propensity may be more susceptible towards enviroments that are more likely to lead to offending.
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Turning to Crime- Upbringing- Poverty and Disadvan

  • understanding of the causes of crime could lead into intervention and prevention strategies. 


There is the presence of three groups of adolescent offenders:

Propensity induced- propensity to offend is due to personality Life style dependent- Offending from this group is largely due to lifestyle and socialising with delinquent peers (alcohol and drug abuse) Situationally limited- these group offend occassionally due to exposure to high risk situations.


  • Usefulness [Strength and Weakness of the Social Approach]
  • Generalisability 
  • Nature/ Nurture/ Free will/ Determinism
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Turning to Crime (Cognition)

The cognitive approach explains that criminal behaviour is a result of faulty/ illogical thinking processes. The assumption is that criminals think differently to non-criminals and by understanding the faulty cogntions of criminals, these cognitions can be reversed, changed and altered. Thinking patterns such as perception of self and the inability to see faults and only positive is usually found in criminals. They also have an ownership attitude which means that they see people, places and things as theirs to control. Some researchers have tried to link morality with criminal behaviour, it has been argued that if an individual is not developed morally and is at the early stage of morality then are more likely to commit crimes because their moral faculties and cognition is perhaps different to that of a law abiding citizen's. The cognitive explanation to crime also looks social cognition in terms of how offenders think about their victims or the crimes they commit. This approach has led to useful intervention programmes like 'retributive justice' whereby the perpetrator of a crime is faced with the victim of the crime. 

  • Criminal Thinking Patterns
  • Moral Development 
  • Social Cognition
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Turning to Crime- Cognition- Thinking Patterns

Yochelson and Samenov 'A study of thinking patterns of criminals' 

Aim: To understand the make up of criminal personality and identify techniques that can alter personality disorder to prevent or reduce crime. 

Design/ Procedure: Longitudinal study [14 years] based on interviews [Freudian Therapy techniques] which aimed to identify the cause of their criminal behaviour from the past.

Participants: 255 males from different class and ethnic background- found guilty, on reasons of insanity. Researchers were doctors in their unit. 30 of them completed full programme of interviews and only 9 made significant progress.


  • Only 9 out of 255 made significant progress 
  • The study identified 52 thinking patterns that criminals display and none criminals don't 
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Turning to Crime- Cognition- Thinking Patterns

  • Closed thinking- not receptive to criticism, good at finding faults in others and not themselves.
  • External attribution- views self as a victim, blames others for situation 
  • Perception of self- sees only positive attributes and fails to acknowledge faults 
  • Perception of uniqueness- sees self as different to the norm, better than others 
  • Ownership attitude- sees all things places, people as being there for them to use. 


52 thinking patterns were distinguisable in the criminal personality, They were considered to be errors in thinking and they are not unique to criminals but are displayed more by criminals than law-abiding citizens. They proposes that irrational thinking can be treated and individuals can be assisted by rehabilitating them and altering their thinking patterns. 


  • Lack of control group, representativeness of sample/ generalisability, validity
  • usefulness 
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Turning to Crime- Cognition- Moral Development


Aim: To find evidence to support progression through the stages of moral development. 

Participants: 58 boys from Chicago, different backgrounds, ages 7, 10, 13 and 16. Similar studies conducted in UK, Mexico, Turkey and Taiwan

Methodology: 2 hour interviews with 10 dilemmas including the Heinz dilemma 

Results: Young boys perform at stage 1&2 (pre-morality) while older boys perform at stage 3&4 (Conventional morality)


There is support across cultures for a stage of moral development. This implies that we cannot hold younger children criminally responsible because they haven't discovered the cognitive abilities to understand their actions. 

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Turning to Crime- Cognition- Moral Development

Linking moral development to criminal behaviour 

Palmer and Hollin 

Aim: To compare moral reasoning between male delinquents and male and female non-delinquents 

Sample: 126 convicted offenders in young offender institution and 122 male and 210 female non-offenders. Aged 13-22, from Midlands. 

Method: Interviews and moral dilemma questions. 

Results: Delinquent group showed less mature moral reasoning than non-offenders. 


It provides evidence for the cognitive theory of criminality suggesting that people with underdeveloped moral values might be at risk of becoming criminals. 

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Turning to Crime- Cognition- Moral Development


  • Advantage and disadavantage of cross-sectional study 
  • Advantage and disadvantage of cognitive approach used 
  • Usefulness 
  • Generalisability 
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Turning to Crime- Cognition- Social Cognition

Social cognition refers to the way a criminal thinks about the criminal act. It examines the attributions made by the offender for the blame for the offence and any remorse shown in relation to the offence. The idea is that if we understand the reasonds for offending, we may be able to help offenders to modify their thinking in certain situations to reduce their likelihood of offending. Gudjohnsson identified two important types of attributions: 'internal' vs 'external' attributions. Internal attributions are when the person attributes the cause of the behaviour within themselves, while external attribution is when the person attributes the cause to an enviromental or social factor, such as provocation and peer group pressure.

Byers et al 'Hate Crimes against the amish'

Aim: to investigate attribution bias in offenders who committed hate crimes against the amish community.

Methodology: 8 participants, interviewed, participants also supplied 16 hours of audio-taped narrative of 'Claping' [harassmentg, intimidation and vandalism] agaisnt Old order Amish.

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Turning to Crime- Cognition- Social Cognition

The data was transcribed and an analysis of interview data revealed key attributions.

Findings of key attributions:

  • Denial of responsibility (10.5%)- 'the harassment was almost common nature'
  • Denial of injury (31.5%)- 'No one really got hurt'
  • Denial of victim (23.7%0- 'I always thought they were less smart'
  • Condemnation of condemners (15%0
  • Higher Loyalties (18.4%)


Offenders tend to make external attributions for their violent behaviour and they are aware of how others will see their offending behaviour. Hence they use neutralisation techniques like the attributions in order to deny their actions are wrong or harmful.

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Turning to Crime- Cognition- Social Cognition


  • Reductionism
  • Strengths and weakness of the qualitative and quantitative data collected
  • Strength and limitation of the cognitive explanation of why people turn to crime
  • Usefulness
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Turning to Crime (Biology)

The Biological approach looks for differences between non-criminals and criminals in their genes, hormone levels and pathology and brain function. Certain areas of the brain affect our behaviour and research has indicated that the prefrontal cortex affects behaviour, similarly genes such as MAOA or serotonin imbalance.  Evolutionary explanation on gender differences for crime has often pointed to the fact that in the past men have always competed with each other for the woman which often involves dangerous tests. Furthermore, the role of a man was to be a provider and this involved hunting or other risk prone activities. Similarly in the 21st century, it can be argued that young men from disadvantaged neighbourhood expected to live shorter lives and were more likely to discount the future hence engage in risky behaviour. This is due to an inherent need to seek thrills and danger- they increase their risk taking for short term horizons (short term gratification). 

Three main topics in the biological explanation of crime: 

  • Brain dysfunction 
  • Genes and Serotonin 
  • Gender 
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Turning to Crime- Biology- Brain Dysfunction

Raine - Brain abnormalities in murderers indicated by PET 

Aim: investigated patterns of brain activity in murderers compared to a matched sample of non-murderers using PET scans to see whether there are differences in the prefrontal cortex thought to be involved in violent behaviour. 

Sample/ Procedure: Quasi Experiment, 41 murderers (39 men and 2 women) who pleaded not guilty to murder or manslaugter by reasons of insanity. There was a control group of non-murderers that were matched (for age and sex). 6 of the murderers had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and they were also matched to participants in the control group. None of the participants took medication at least 2 weeks prior to testing

  • After a practice task, the participants were injected with radioactive glucose tracer which checks brain activity 
  • Then they did a continous performance task (visual task) which increases brain activity in the frontal lobe 
  • PET scan performed immediately after 
  • 10 horizontal images were taken through the brain at 10mm intervals 
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Turning to Crime- Biology- Brain Dysfunction

  • The scans indicate the level of activity in different brain areas. 


  • Significant differences in activity levels in many areas of the brain found between murderers and the control group 
  • Less activity in murderer's prefrontal cortex of the brain 
  • Murderer's brain were more active on the right than the left 
  • Other areas showed differences, such as the amygdale, thalamus and hippocampus 


The area identified with abnormal activity (pre-frontal cortex) is associated with a lack of fear, lowered self control, increased aggression, impulsive behaviour and problems with controlling and expressing emotions. All these could lead to an increased risk of committing acts of extreme violence. 

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Turning to Crime- Biology- Brain Dysfunction


  • Ethics 
  • Free Will/ Determinism 
  • Scientific method/ establishing cause and effect 
  • Reductionist 
  • Usefulness
  • Labelling effect/ Self fulfilling prophecy 
  • Nature/ Nurture 
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Turning to Crime- Biology- Genes and Serotonin

Brunner et al 'A study of violence in a family with genetic abnormality' 

A case study on 5 males from a Netherland family where the males were affected by borderline mental retardation and abnormal violent behaviour including impulsive aggression, arson and ****. 

Procedure: Data was collected from the analysis of urine samples over a 24 hour period


  • Tests showed disturbed monoamine metabolism associated with a deficit of the enzme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA)
  • In each of the five males a point mutation was identified in the X chromosome of the gene responsible for the production of MAOA

Conclusion: MAOA is involved in serotonin metabolism. Impaired metabolism of serotonin is likely to be responsible for mental retardation and this could be linked to the aggressive behaviour and failure to control aggression. 

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Turning to Crime- Biology- Genes and Serotonin


  • Limited Sample 
  • Useful
  • Strength and weakness of case study method 
  • Establishing cause and effect 
  • Reductionism- ignores social factors (Sutherland's Theory)
  • Deterministic
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Turning to Crime- Biology- Gender

Daly and Wilson 'Investigation of gender-related life expectancy' 

Aim: To find out if homicide rates would vary as a function of local life expectancy in Chicago (a city divided into 77 community areas). The study examined local communities that has lower than average male life expectancies (54.3 to -77.4 years). 

Correlational study using survey data from police records, school records and local demographic records. They compared life expectancy to homicide rates and plotted correlation from the data. 


  • Strong correlation between lower life expectancies and homicide rates 
  • Negative correlation between school absenteeism and life expectancy (young men see little point in investing effort in school performance)
  • Life expectancy proved to be the best predictor of neighbourhood specific homicide rates. 
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Turning to Crime- Biology- Gender


Daly and Wilson concluded that young men from disadvantaged neighbourhood expected to live shorter lives and were more likely to discount the future hence engage in risky behaviour. This is due to an inherent need to seek thrills and danger- they increase their risk taking for short term horizons (short term gratification). 


  • Sample Bias (based only on males, what about female life expectancy and criminal behaviour)
  • Reductionist 
  • Strengths and weakness of correlational data 
  • Ethnocentric 
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