Turning to crime

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FARRINGTON - Disrupted Families

AIM = To investigate the influence of life events; the risk and protective factors predicting offending and antisocial behaviour; the intergenerational transmission of offending and the influence of family background.                SAMPLE = 411 boys from East End London

TYPE OF DATA = Quant data: Number of offences Qual data: Characteristics of offenders

APPROACH = Social                                          TYPE OF STUDY = Longitudinal

PROCEDURE = Interviews from childhood to adulthood and official statistics of criminal activity looked at. Last interviewed when 48, 394 still alive, 93% attribution rate as only 365 were interviewed.                                                                         FINDINGS = Those who started a criminal career aged 10-13 nearly all re-offended (91%) 93% admitted to having commited a crime at some point in there lifetime. Chronic offenders had on average criminal careers from 14-35 yrs (7%). Most of the chronic offenders shared childhood characteristics: convicted before age 21, convicted parent, a deliquent sibling, young mother, low popularity & a distrupted family of a large size.

CONCLUSIONS = Crime is caused by intergenerational transmission, large family size, poverty, poor school performance etc. Thus early intervention programmes would reduce offending.

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WILKSTROM & TAFEL - Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods

AIM OF STUDY = To investigate why young people offend.

TYPE OF STUDY = Snapshot                                            SAMPLE =  2000 year 10 pupils

APPROACH = Social   PROCEDURE = Used interviews and pre-existing data to establish findings.

FINDINGS =  There are risk factors and protective factors that determine whether or not a person becomes criminal. 3 diff. groups of adolescent offenders: ---> Propensity induced - Small proportion of the population with enduring personality characteristics that make it likely that they will offend (Responsible for a large proportion for crime) Have a high level of risk factors e.g anti-social values  ---> Lifestyle dependent - This group are average in terms of social adjustment.  They offend when they have high risk lifestyles, for example socialising with delinquent peers and using drugs or alcohol.  ---> Situationally limited - These youths are well adjusted but may offend if the situation (e.g substance abuse) exposes them to the opportunity of commiting crime.

CONCLUSIONS = Number of factors in a childs upbringing come together - to contribute  to deviancy including poverty , impulsiveness, poor child-rearing and poor school performance. Similarly to Farrington, early intervention programmes could help.

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BANDURA - Social Learning Theory and the Transmissive of Aggression

AIM = To see if children imitate modelled agression & to investigate sex differences based on the principals of social learning theory.

APPROACH = Behaviourist 

SAMPLE = 72 children from Stanford Uni Nursery School Aged from around 3 - 6 yrs old

RESULTS = ---> Boys more physically agressive than girls ---> The children in the aggressive model condition made more aggressive responses than the children in the non-aggressive model condition ---> Girls in the aggressive model condition showed more physical aggression if the model was male and more verbal aggression if the model was female ---> Boys more likely to imitate same sex models than girls

Conclusions = Supports B's social learning theory - applying to criminality, SLT states its simply a learned behaviour, imitated from role models. An individual will repeat a behaviour if they see a role model recieving positive reinforcement for it. Although theory accounts for many people becoming crime,especially petty crime, it dosen't seem to account for those who become offenders without any apparent poor role models

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SUTHERLAND - Differential Association Hypothesis

FINDINGS = A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favourable to violation of law over definitions unfavourable to violation of law. Individuals become delinquent due to repeated contacts with criminal activity and a lack of contact with non-criminal activity. 


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Theories of Cognition (How criminals think)

YOCHELSON & SAMENOW - Criminal thinking patterns

AIM = To understand the make-up of a criminal personality and to encourage an understanding of legal responsibility, establish techniques in preventing criminal behaviour.

APPROACH = Cognitive                                        TYPE OF STUDY = Longitudinal - 14 years

SAMPLE = 255 males from various backgrounds e.g white/black/inner city/suburbs etc. drawn mainly from secure psychiatric hospitals.

PROCEDURE = Interviewed over various points in their lives.Only 30 pps comoleted the programme of interviews.

RESULTS & CONCLUSIONS = Criminals typically make up to 40 'thinking errors' including over optimism about crime, lack of empathy for victims etc.

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Theories of Cognition (How criminals think)

KOHLBERG - Moral Development & Crime

AIM = To find evidence in support of a progression through stages of moral development.

SAMPLE = Men and boys from the USA 

APPROACH = Cognitive

PROCEDURE = Pps asked about their responses to a series of moral 'dilemmas' (e.g. the 'sick wife) through structured interviews and their responses and reasoning about these recorded and classified. 

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS = People seem to fit into one of three stages of 'moral development': Pre-conventional, conventional & Post-conventional. Suggestions later made about criminals being 'stuck' at an earlier stage of development. 

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Theories of Cognition (How criminals think)

GUDJOHNSSON & BROWN - Social Cognition

AIM = That criminals have distinct styles of attribution

APPROACH = Cognitive 

SAMPLE = 80 prisoners in Northern Ireland serving sentences for a range of offences

PROCEDURE = Participants filled in a 42 item 'Blame Attribution Inventory' self report questionnare - results analysed

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS = Consistent with earlier research in England it was found that violent offenders, in paticular, tended to attribute their behaviours to 'external factors'. 

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Biological Explanations

SHELDON - Body Types

AIM = To investigate the relationship between certain 'somatotypes' (body types) and behaviour (specifically criminal behaviour)

AREA OF PSYCHOLOGY = Physiological      TYPE OF STUDY = Natural experiment/correlation

SAMPLE = 200 college students & 200 male delinquents

HOW CONDUCTED/PROCEDURE = He categorised full length photos of pps into one of three body types, namely 'Endomorph', 'Mesomorph' and 'Ectomorph'

RESULTS & CONCLUSIONS = Found a positive correlation between one body type (Mesomorph) and criminality 

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Biological Explanations

DALY & WILSON - Gender related life expectancy (Evolutionary Theorists) 

AIM = Based on there initial theories and findings that males comit more crimes due to their anscestors role of hunter and protector predisposes them to more risky behaviour than females. More specifically ,to find out if homocide rates would vary as a function of life expectancy rates in Chicago

METHOD = A correlational study using data from police records, school records and local demographic records

PROCEDURE = Communities in Chicago were studied that had a lower than average male life expectancy which was then compared to homocide levels in those areas


  • Negative correlation with life expectancy and homocide rates (The lower the life expectancy, the higher the homocide rate)
  • Negative correlation between school absentees and life expectancy rates (Risk taking young men need an outlet and if not find through legitimate means they will find an illegitimate one)

CONCLUSION = Young men from disadvantaged neighbourhoods expect to live shorter lives and tend to discount the future & thus more prone to partake in risk taking activities e.g crime

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Biological Explanations

LOMBROSO - 'Born Criminals'

AIM = To test his theory of deviance in which a persons bodily constitution indicates whether a person is a 'born criminal'. These 'born criminals' = A throwback to an earlier stage of human evolution whith the physical make-up, mental capabilities & instincts of primitive man

PROCEDURE = He observed the physical characteristics of Italian prisoners in comparison to those of italian soldiers

FINDINGS = Criminals are physically different. The physical characteristics he used to identify prisoners included an assymetry of the face, large monkey-like ears etc. He stated that males with five or more of these could be considered 'born criminals' and women only needed three

CONCLUSIONS = Criminality is indeed inherited and it can be seen ina persons bodily constitutions

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RAIN ET AL - Brain Dysfunction 

AIM = To investigate brain activity in murderers compared to a matched sample of non-murderers using PET-scan.                                APPROACH = Physiological 

SAMPLE = Experimental group: 41 pps charged with murder/manslaughter who had pleaded not guilty by reasons of insanity but had been convicted. 39-Men 2-Female Control group: 41 ppsmatched with experimental on sex/age/other factors. All scanned - all had no history of mental illness.                                                    FINDINGS = No difference on task performance but significant differences in brain metabolism of glucose in number of areas found between experimental & control group e.g the prefrontal cortex showed a much lower level of glucose metabolism in the experimental group.               CONCLUSIONS = They suggest that the apparent reduced brain activity in certain areas may be one of the many predispositions in certain individuals towards violence. The areas identified as having abnormal activity are associated with e.g lack of fear & Increased aggression etc - all of which could lead to an increased risk of commiting acts of extreme violence. 

However Raine DID NOT conclude there were only biological causes for violence, just that there might be a pre-disposition to violence in some people, depending on environmental triggers.

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AIM = To investigate the impact of both nature and nurture on the tendency of individual to commit crime

TYPE OF STUDY = Natural experiment/correlation using multi-variable analysis

SAMPLE = 1000 men born in New Zealand 1972-3

PROCEDURE = Men's life history & genetic profile compared to their history of offending

RESULTS & CONCLUSIONS = Of men who offended two groups identified; life course persistent and adolescence limited. The adolescene limited offenders often had poor early life expieriences but the LCPO tended to have a combination of genetic (short form of the MAOA gene variant) and environmental factors - This group were responsible for the vast majority of crime.

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BOHMAN (1995)

AIM = To look at the different rates of criminal conviction of adopted children 

TYPE OF STUDY = Natural experiment - looked at official records


  • Adoptive parents who had CR + Biological parent who did = 40% child had CR
  • Adoptive parents who had no CR + Biological parents who did = 12% child had CR
  • Biological parents had no CR + Adoptive parents who did = 7% child had CR
  • Biological parents had no CR + neither did the adoptive parents = 3% child had CR

CONCLUSIONS = Nature and nurture both play a part in the likelihood of an individual turning to crime

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