Turning to Crime

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Farrington et al. (2006) Delinquent Development

Based on idea that 'problem families create problem children'

411 London boys - androcentric so can't generalise to girls, ethnocentric

Longitudinal study (tested from 8 to 46) - see long term effects BUT might miss something that becomes important later on 

Interviews with boys, their mothers and teachers and search of criminal records


  • 40% convicted before they were 40 (31% national ave)
  • Offending peaked at 17 and began to decrease but earlier they started, the more persistent criminal career was
  • Reasons given for offending - hedonistic (enjoyment) or utilitarian (material gain)
  • Worst offenders came from large , multi-problem families
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Farrington (2006) Cont.

Conclusion - As most prolific offenders start early it is suggested that ten-year-olds should be targeted 

Evaluation - 

  • Large sample makes it a reliable study 
  • Self-report makes it liable to social desireability
  • Objective data because of the use of official records
  • Londitudinal study allowing for development of behaviour

Debates - 

  • Nature/Nurture - understanding of the nurture debate, useful to target resorces (education resources)
  • Social determinism

Perspectives -

  • Psychodynamic - Early experiences 
  • Behaviourist - Imitation through observation (Bandura AS) 
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Sutherland (1947) Differential Association

It is the social organisations people are socialised in that determine whether or not they will participate in criminal activities

  • Similar to Bandura's social learning theory
  • It is not the individual's fault - it is their social context
  • Explains deviance in terms of the individual's social relationships
  • 9 basic points in total

Main points:

  • Criminal behaviour learnt in interaction with others
  • Learning includes how to commit the crime and the reasons why (motives)
  • Person becomes deliquent due to excess of definitions favourable to violation of the law
  • Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration and intensity
  • We learn to become a criminal the same way we learn anything else
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Sutherland (1947) Cont.

Evaluation -

  • It can account for a range of criminal acts from a range of people
  • It cannot account for individual difference in the susceptability of learning i.e. some people learn quicker and are easily led, whereas others are strong willed.
  • Needs testing in order to establish credibility or usefulness
  • Discounts the influence of media (out of date theory)

Perspectives -

  • Behaviourist, to learn is from interaction with others in personal groups, therefore imitation.

Debates -

  • Nurture, behaviour is learnt. 
  • Free will vs Determinist,intimate personal groups could be considered as social determinants.
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Wikstrom and Tafel (2003) Peterborough Youth Study

Government figures suggest the most disadvantaged 5% of society are 100 times more likely to have multiple problems than the most advantaged 50%

Peterborough Youth Study:

2000 year 10 students (large sample, representative BUT only year 10's not all teenagers)

Interviews with students - any questions not understood explained by researcher, increasing reliability and validity


  • 44.8% males and 30.6% females had committed at least one offence
  • 9.8% males and 3.8% females had committed a serious offence
  • 1 in 8 offenders had been reported or arrested by police for last crime
  • Offenders often more victimised than non offenders and violent offenders more likely to be victims of violence
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Wikstrom and Tafel (2003) Cont.


  • Family social position (class, ethnicity etc)
  • Individual characteristics (dispositions, self control, truancy, morality etc)
  • Social situation (family and school bonds, parental monitoring etc)
  • Community contexts (neighbourhood disadvantage and school attended etc)

Most important are their individual characteristics and the way they lived

Social disadvantage is not itself a good predictor, but those from lower social class do have more risk factors


  • Less reductionist than other studies, however doesn't look at biological factors.
  • Nurture/social determinism inflences on criminal behaviour
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Yochelson and Samenow (1976) Thinking Patterns

To identify possible thinking patterns common in mentally ill offenders

Over 14 years used interviews on 244 male offenders in psychiatric hospital in US (androcentric, only mentally ill offenders - can't generalise to women or non mentally ill. ethnocentric)

  • Results showed criminals have significantly distinct thinking patterns that differentiate from thinking patterns of non-criminals
  • Offenders are in control of their lives and criminality is a result of choices made at early age
  • Offenders have cognitive processes which lead to distorted self-image and denial of responsibility
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Yochelson and Samenow (1976) Cont.

Criminal personality fits into 3 broad categories:

  • Criminal Thinking Patterns - characterised by fear and the need for power and control, search for perfection and lying
  • Automatic Thinking Errors - includes lack of empathy and trust, failure to accept obligations, perception of themselves as the victim
  • Crime-Related Thinking Errors - optimistic fantasising about specific criminal acts with no regard for deterrents.

Findings include:

  • being restless, dissatisfied and irritable
  • want a life of excitement
  • set themselves apart from others
  • lack empathy
  • feel under no obligation to anyone

All this research suggests criminals are not necessarily impulsive in their tendancies, rather they have planned and fantasised about their actions. It could be argued a criminal's moral development is delayed and that the offender doesn't have the mechanisms to control and resist temptation.

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Yochelson and Samenow (1976) Cont.

Evaulation - 

  • Lacks a control group - no evidence that these thinking patterns only exist in offenders
  • Social desirability can cause problems with validity 
  • A small sample 
  • Longditudinal means it would be difficult to replicate
  • Clinical interviews could mean data is liable to researcher bias 

Perspectives - 

  • Psychodynamic - Looks for the root causes of criminal behaviour in early life

Debates - 

  • Nurture - Criminal behaviour could be learnt from others 
  • Free Will - However offenders do make the choice
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Gudjohnnson and Bownes (2002) Attribution of Blame

Identifies 4 types of attributions - dispositional/internal (person) external/situational (environment) mental element and guilt

80 criminals serving sentences in N.Ireland had committed violent crime (ethnocentric, can't generalise to other types of crime)


  • Those who had committed sexual offences showed most remorse
  • Little difference between offenders for mental attributes
  • External (situational) attribution highest amongst violent and lowest for sex

Compared with English findings, Irish showed lower mental element, lower guilt and higher external attribution

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Gudjohnsson and Bownes (2002) Cont.

Evaluation - 

  • Self-report can effect the validity as offenders could give socially desireable responses; could be lying to improve conditions or access resources etc.

Usefulness - 

  • Can allow us to target certain resorces e.g. offenders who link to internal attribution may be more open to rehabilitation.
  • Validity problems may compromise usefulness

Link - 

  • Locus of Control (Rotter, 1966)
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Kohlberg (1963) Moral Development in Children

Based on Piaget's stages of Development

72 Chicago boys aged c.10, c.13 and c.16. Half were upper middle class, the other half lower middle class. Matched pairs for IQ

2 hour interviews which were tape recorded. 10 hypothetical moral dilemmas to solve e.g. the Heinz dilemma. 

Longditudinal aspects as some of the boys were interviewed again in later work at 3 yearly intervals 


  • There are three stages of morality 
  • Pre-Morality
  • Conventional Morality 
  • Post-conventional Morality
  • Younger boys were operating in the early stages of morality
  • Whereas older boys typically operated at stage 3 .
  • Results offere support of stage theory
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Kohlberg (1963) Cont.

Evaluation -

  • Gender bias sample
  • It is only a theory of moral thinking
  • Self-report leads us to question the validity

Debates -

  • Nuture - We learn our morals from our main caregvivers
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Raine (2002) Aggressive behaviour in Children

Participants injected with glucose tracer and PET scan used to show pattern of activity in different parts of the brain

Results showed that there were differences in levels of activity in different parts of the brain between murderers and non murderers

Murderers had significantly less levels of activity in the pre-frontal cortex which is linked with a loss of self-control.

Murderers also had less activity in the amygdala which is responsible for fear response.

The results argue that dysfunctions in areas of the brain could be an explanation for why people engage in criminal activity.

However, only explains behaviour for murderers so can't generalise to other crimes.

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Raine (2002) Cont.

Evaluation - 

  • Used a wide range of published research articles. 
  • Doesn't eliminate researcher bias, and varied sample size.

Debates - 

  • Only offers biological, deterministic, and reductionist explanations.

Usefulness -

  • Shows that early intervention can reduce later probelms.
  • By labelling someone as violent or aggressive can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy (Rosenhan)
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Brunner et al., (1993) Genes and Serotonin

Sample was large Dutch family where males had history of criminal behaviour including sexual assault of sisters, stabbing prison wardens and attempting to run over supervisor - such behaviour not seen in females of family

Analysed urine samples to provide indication on genetic mutations.

Found in the men only that there was a mutated gene on X chromosome resulting in low production of an enzyme which affected neurotransmitters, serotonin and noradrenaline

This research indicates a genetic mutation may result in increased levels of serotonin which seems to be linked with increases in agressive and deviant behaviour

There could be possibility of treatments being developed to restore deficiencies in genes to reduce likelihood of criminal behaviour

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Brunner et al., (1993) Cont.

Evaluation/Usefulness -

  • Small sample and not all males in the family were effected
  • Only limited to one family, not generalisable

Debates - 

Demonstrates the weaknesses of biological, determinist and reductionist explanations

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Daly and Wilson (1997) Homicide Rates

Differences in gender and crime could be explained by Daly & Wilson's evolutionary theory

This argues that whilst ancestral women's offspring was limited by pregnancy, lactation and menopause, ancestral men's offspring only depended on number of women he could mate with and because of this men competed with eachother for mating opportunities.

One way they could do this was through acquisition of status and wealth.

A psychological mechanism has developed in men that makes them more likely to engage in criminal behaviour as a way of attracting women

The repeated observation that crimes of violence are most frequently committed by males against other males and homicides are often committed by young men of poor socioeconomic prospects.

Found a strong negative correlation, indicating that the lower the life expectancy or wealth the higher the homicide rates

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Daly and Wilson (1997) Cont.

Evaluation - 

  • No establishment of cause and effect
  • Large sample and method of data collection from census and official records is valid and reliable
  • Low researcher bias

Debates - 

  • Nurture - young men seeing relitives/friends die young
  • Reductionist - social and cognitive factors are not considered

Links - Freud and Ethological theory consider aggression as innate

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