Crime is an act that is in violation of morals or laws that are meant to act as societal checks and balances. Such an act in any society is subject to punishment. In the United States cases of criminal activities are rampant despite various control measures that have been put in place by crime control agents.
What causes or leads to one committing criminal activities is a subject that has received a lot of attention with researchers from various disciplines trying to explain what they think is the main cause. There are many theories such as psychological, biological and sociological theories that are used to analyze crime but for the sake of limiting the scope of this research, the paper will specifically focus on one biological and psychological theory. It will also differentiate between the two perspectives and highlight the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The most common argument about the factors is that biological and physical factors can lead to crime. The biological theory of crime holds that ones physical attributes can lead one into committing criminal activities. This theory argues that there are some genetic predispositions that determine whether one will become a criminal or not. These genes are hereditary and are passed from one generation to another. Johan Caspar Lavater, a biologist argued that ones shape of the skull and other body physical features especially facial ones impact on human behaviors.
The argument was taken to a new height by an Italian theorist, Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) who in his research included other body parts and not simply the shape of the skull and facial looks. Lombroso looked at the size of one ears, shape of the skull, shape of the nose, length of the arm, the size of the cheekbones and the length of hair and its amount and compared this with criminals who were in jails to know whether this held any water (Matza, 1999).
His reasoning was based on belief that criminals have particular physiognomic or defective body features. He maintained that body organs of criminals do not undergo human evolution fully and that is why these individuals possess ape-like features such as flattened jaws, protruding jaws and strong canines that resemble those of carnivorous animals (Free, 64).
He believed if that if that was the case, he would be able to isolate criminals from the public before they could indulge themselves in crime. His model was widely criticized especially by Charles Goring who referred to Lobroso’s theory as unethical and primitive as you cannot simply look at ones bodily features and determine who will turn out to be a criminal as defects might be as a result of many things including accidents or genetic predispositions.
He disapproved Lobroso’s theory when he compared criminals with London’s Royal Engineers and found no difference in physical features such as skull and facial features (Maguire et al, 2007).
Though Lombroso’s model of analyzing criminals was criticized, it became the foundation of other biological theories of crime like the one that was advanced by William Sheldon who identified that there are three body types namely, the ectomorphic. Endomorphic and Mesomorphic. The mesomorphic are people with an athletic body build and according to Sheldon they are more aggressive that the other two groups and thus are the ones who are involved in delinquencies (Cote, 2002).
Another biological theory that was advanced and said that ones level of IQ counts as cited by Hirschi and Hindelang (1977) in (Free, 65) This theory argues that people with low IQ are more likely to be criminals and that ones IQ is a more effective way of establishing potential criminals.
This theory cannot be used to give a true picture of the criminals as in most IQ tests; the whites perform better than blacks something that would literary mean that all blacks are criminals. According to social scientists like Richard Weinberg and Sandra Scarr, the reason for difference in IQ is attributed to social factors.
There has been no unanimous agreement that ones IQ can be used as a means of determining the would-be criminals and it is claimed that the reason for IQ differential is the fact that most tests are designed by whites whose aim is to magnify this cultural bias (Free, 1996).
Psychological theories of crime take a psychological perspective and they focus more on one’s personality. According to Sigmund, crime results due to development of an unconscious tension in a family environment. (Maguire et al, 2007). Frustration as a result of dissatisfaction was used to explain why African American are very aggressive and it was concluded that it is because they are segregated and they release their frustrations through physical aggression and by using abusive language.
Most of the earliest psychological theories were advanced by Sigmund Freud who argued that human beings have drives (instinctual drives) that have to be controlled to avoid one from adopting criminal behaviors (Fletcher, George P. 1998). He termed these drives as ‘id’ which according to him demands to be treated fairly.
These demands if are not controlled they can lead one into committing crime in a bid to be gratified. Its ethical codes and morals (super ego) that children learn from their parents and guardians that keep them in check thereby children developing an intermediary between the id and the ego which he termed as ‘the superego’ (Carlson, 2001).
According to Sigmund, it is superegos failure to intervene the ids’ demands that contributes to criminal activities. Psychological theories that were advanced later were based on behavior of individuals and one proponent of this was B.F. Skinner who believed that it is through learning that behaviors are acquired. This theory was advanced by others like Ronald Akers who said that contact with other groups introduce children to new behaviors. Apart from this, it is argued that mental conditions do not contribute a lot to criminal behaviors but the seriousness of some of criminal activities committed by people with mental disorders is what raises concern.
This theory was proved true in that the closure of mentally hospitals in the United States in the period between 1960s and 70s made these people to go to the community something that indirectly led to an increase in criminal behavior and with the eventual overcrowding of jails Although this theory in away explained how irrational behaviors lead to crime, it failed to address why people in their rational mind plan and commit crime (Cote, 2002; 37).
Obviously, biological and psychological theories rules out the possibility of other factors that can contribute to the same. In most cases it is social and economic factors that lead one into committing crime. Most of people who indulge themselves in criminal activities are in lieu of meeting their basic necessities. Sociological theories should also be given the attention they deserve as they would help the crime control agent with the right approach towards crime control.
Unlike the other two, that is psychological and biological which mainly focus on flaws or abnormalities in ones body, sociological theories are said to be more realistic as they focus on circumstances that lead to crime, social elements and look at how social structure may contribute to increase in crime. Environmental factors also contribute to this in that the culture of a particular community may encourage one to commit crime.
Most biological theories assume that if your parents were criminals then the chances of one becoming a criminal are high but this is not always the case as other behavioral influence may lead to the same for example the peer pressure. Although psychological theories hold some truth that crime may be caused by psychological factors, they also ignore other theories which may also lead to crimes but Sigmund’s theory does not disagree that socialization can also cause one to become a criminal.
He said that the way people are socialized determines who one becomes leading to what he termed as socialized criminals. Psychological theories of crime particularly the psychoanalytic theory that was advanced by Sigmund Fiend was criticized widely because of lack of ways to test its hypotheses and the fact that it purely subjective.
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Matza, David. 1999. Delinquency and Drift. 4th Edition. Transaction Publishers.
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