While the theory of biological imperatives as the predictor of criminal tendencies or behavior have been mainly relegated to the trash heap of unscientific thought, there is a growing body of research, done in an approved scientific method and backed by years of study that indicates that biology may have a larger role in determining criminal behavior than had been thought. Biological Theory
These theories are not to be confused with or equated to Lombroso’s work that pointed to specific physical characteristics that would indicate a predisposition toward criminal behavior. Those theories have rightfully been disposed of and the current theories of biological tendencies toward criminal behavior are relying on the “hard sciences” of genetics, biochemistry, endocrinology, neuroscience, immunology, and psychophysiology (Fishbein, 2005).
The debate between nature and nurture, free will or determinationism, and the adherents to those theories has provided a great deal of material for studies over the years and even with advancing theoretical methodologies, those debates will continue. One of the most interesting biological theories falls into the realm of genetics and whether a predisposition to criminal behavior can be passed from generation to generation through DNA (Fishbein, 2005).
Studies have been done, following designated families who seem to show a tendency to fall into lives of crime, tending to prove that genetics may have a major role in determining whether a person will take up criminal behavior. Even observation by the layperson seems to give this theory a greater degree of probability than has been accorded to it in the past.
When it is possible to observe directly and from accecdotal evidence that certain families and within those families, certain members are drawn to varying degrees of lawlessness, the theory of biological imperatives can gain a good deal of support (Marsh, 2009).
Scientists have found anomalies in the endocrine systems of those with criminal tendencies which are not present in the systems of those who have not engaged in criminal activity, which leads to the supposition that there is a biological reason for criminal activity. However, this tendency toward criminal activity is hidden from casual view and is not to be seen by observing physical characteristics, as was supposed and posited by Lombroso (Marsh, 2009).
Lombroso’s theories of biological characteristics such as low brows, curly hair, skin hue, shape of the nose, mouth, and ears have been thoroughly discredited, but the newer science of biological markers for criminal activities relies on much more sophisticated tests of the inner man or woman, not on the exterior. Such things as tattoos are no longer considered signs of a criminal nature, but are judged on what the tattoo actually depicts and where it was obtained.
Certain distinctive markings are definitely gang or jail related, but the majority of those bearing tattoos in today’s society are decorating themselves or commemorating a loved one or important event in their lives (Fishbein, 2005). Sociobiological Theory
Sociobiological theory studies the biological basis for social behavior in species. This includes all species, not just the human one, but the findings and observational methods used to observe each species vary only in the physical necessities for observing the species being studied. It would not work well to use the same methodologies to study humans as it would to study elephants, though there is considerable question as to which species is the more civilized (Gottesman, Ronald, nd).
The basis for Sociobiological Theory rests in the Positivist and Individual Trait theories propounded by Lombroso, Mednick, Caspi, and Moffitt, but do not limit themselves to the thoughts and findings of those philosophers (Cullen & Agnew, 2002). Psychological Theory
Psychological theories of criminal behavior and causation concentrate on the mental development or lack thereof in the individual criminal. They first focus on failures in psychological development, such as a weak conscience, insufficient moral development or maternal deprivation. The next focus is on investigating the ways aggression and violence are the result of learned behaviors, then investigating the personality characteristics of criminals, with the results showing that criminals do tend to be more impulsive, intolerant, and irresponsible than non-criminals.
The fourth and final leg upon which psychological theories of crime rests is the relation of criminality to such mental disorders as psychosis and psychopathy (Byrne, 2010). Psychological theory is based on theories with their basis in the Anomie and General Strain theories, developed and expanded upon by Merton, Cohen and Agnew (Cullen & Agnew, 2002).
It is evolving, as are other theories, with the resulting changes in public “thought” as well as scientific thought as new aspects to what had been widely believed are discovered and disseminated with in the scientific community as well as by the media to the public. Many philosophers and scientists in the social fields are finding that there is no clear delineation between one theory and another. The research is showing that there is not one particular aspect of any theory that is completely and totally right to the exclusion of all others.
Each theory has its strong points and its weak points and the more criminals and criminal activity are studied, the more those doing the studies are finding that there is an overlap between theories. Theories of Biological reasons for criminal activity seem to slide into the Sociobiological field and the Psychological theory seems to fit aspects of both the others, as well as present some thoughts and theories that are exclusively its own, as is true in the two others (Byrne, 2010). Conclusion
There is no “one true answer” to the causes for criminal activity, though the studies to determine what causes it will undoubtedly continue with more findings as more studies are done. It is even possible that there will be a discovery of a genetic reason for some people’s easy slide into criminality, some strange combination of DNA or RNA that predisposes a person for a life of crime. It is assuredly a field that is wide open for new and fascinating discoveries.
Byrne, James, 2010. An Overview of Physiological theories of Crime Causation.
Retrieved from http://faculty.uml.edu/jbyrne/44.521/documents/AnOverviewofPsychologicalTheoriesofCrimeCausation.pdf Cullen & Agnew, 2002.Criminological Theory Summaries. Retrieved from www.uwec.edu/patchinj/crmj301/theorysummaries.pdf Fishbein, Diana, 2005. Biological Perspectives in Criminology. University of Baltimore. Retrieved from http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/fishbein90.htm Gottesman, Ronald, nd. Violence in America; An Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.haverford.edu/library/reference/mschaus/ICPR281/walsh_sociobiology_acs.pdf Marsh, I., 2009.Theories of the Causes of Crimes. Strategic Policy Briefs. Department of Justice. Retrieved from http://www.justice.govt.nz/justice-sector/drivers-of-crime/documents/spb-theories-on-the-causes-of-crime
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