The Biopsychology theories of crime looks at whether crime is inherited through genes or whether there is a specific illness that causes criminality, such as Anti-Social Personality Disorder. So to get a better understanding of the Biopsychology theories of crime, it’s important to look at a disorder relating to or ties into biopsychology that could account for criminality. According to Michael Eysenck, patients with anti-social personality disorder had a conduct disorder; for example, truancy, lying and theft, or an act of deviance that strays away from the ‘social norms’.
All this usually starting before an individual reaches the age of 15. The following symptoms are associated with Anti-social Personality Disorder: Failure to conform to social norms relating to lawful behaviour, irritability and aggressiveness, impulsivity or failure to plan ahead, lack of remorse, deceitfulness and reckless disregard for the safety of self or others.
According to Eysenck, Widiger and Corbitt (1995) found that between 40% and 75% of prisoners suffer from Anti-social Personality Disorder. Farrington (2000), reported findings from a British longitudinal study of men. The findings were, “…of 10-year-olds having a parent who had been convicted of crime, almost half had an anti-social personality at the age of 32. They were also very likely to have committed several crimes”. (Eysenck, Michael W. 2004).
Farrington’s findings could however, mean more than one thing. The first is whether or not the child in question is influenced to ‘conform’ in a way that that child has grown accustomed to, or, if the biology of anti-social behaviour is true, then it could be said that there is a possibility that Anti-Social Personality Disorder is a hereditary condition.
Just to be clear on what has been said, there is a difference between Anti-social Personality Disorder and Criminality. The difference is that the former is a psychological concept and the latter is a legal one. Eysenck also points out that “most individuals with Anti-social Personality Disorder are not criminals. Bear in mind that many studies have focussed on the factors responsible for criminality, which are only of partial relevance”. (Eysenck, Michael W. 2004).
Biological Theory of Criminality
It is said that genetic factors play a role in the development of criminality, and probably the anti-social personality, according to Eysenck. Von Knorring et al. (1982) looked at criminal behaviour in men adopted as children. He found that when neither adoptive parents nor biological parents had any previous criminal convictions, only 3% of the men became criminals. However, when the biological parents had a criminal record but the adoptive parents did not, this figure changed to 7%.
Nevertheless, the figure increased to 12% when the adoptive parents had a criminal record and the biological parents did not. Finally, Von Knorring et al. found 40% of the men had criminal records when both their biological and adoptive parents had a history of criminality. Virkkunen et al. (1994) argues, “A low level of the neurotransmitter serotonin might be important”. (Eysenck, Michael W. 2004).
Virkkunen found that criminals whose violence was impulsive had much lower levels of serotonin than criminals whose violence was carefully planned. It is argued that, “The relevance of this finding is that impulsiveness is a criterion for the anti-social personality Disorder”. (Eysenck, Michael W. 2004). There is no question about the fact that the chemical reactions within the human body can cause a certain degree of arousal. Similar to Piliavin’s (1975) cost-arousal model in helping behaviour, where he came up with the fight or flight scenario. However, it could be said that to suggest that criminality could be connected to hormones is just giving criminals an excuse to use in their defence by blaming it on their ‘illness’. Criminality, in most cases, is the fault of the individual, giving way to some exceptions that may involve a recognised mental health disorder or other certain exceptions.
It could be argued that the ‘symptoms’ of Anti-social Personality Disorder, such as failure to conform to social norms, impulsiveness, lack of remorse, can relate to ‘normal’ young teenagers in British Schools. But this does not suggest that all teenagers are criminals. Widiger and Corbitt (1995), as already discussed, found that between 40% and 70% of prisoners suffer from anti-social Personality Disorder. It could be said that this assumption is based on stupidity. It could be argued that a criminal has to be anti-social to be in prison in the first place. If an individual ‘stole’ a paperclip from the workplace its anti-social since the general consensus on stealing is that it’s wrong. It may be the case that by labelling, or at best, coming up with a name for a disease that makes an individual turn to crime would be like saying, “he didn’t mean to rape that seven-year-old girl, it’s just his disease”.
There may be some evidence from the study’s to show that certain chemical reactions cause some form of anti-social behaviour, however, most or all criminals have anti-social traits in the first place regardless if, for example, serotonin levels are high, low or just right due to the fact they are criminals, and criminal behaviour is deviant from the social norms. Autistic people that suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome – the mild end of Autistic Spectrum Disorders- for example can suffer from the anti-social traits associated with Asperger’s such as social interaction and behaviour problems. Does this mean that a high number of Autistic people will turn to crime all because they have a disorder that involves anti-social traits and impulsiveness?
With this in mind, it could be said that the biological theory has none or little credibility due to the extent with the other problems discussed about above. However, it is useful to understand the processes of chemical balance, imbalance and reactions taking place in the body as this can help professionals understand or at the very least help question why certain rush of hormones can cause split second irrational behaviour. An example of irrational behaviour would be a mother walking her six-year-old daughter across the street and without looking the daughter runs out in front of a car, but just in time the mother pulls her daughter back in. As the mother has a rush of adrenaline through sheer fright, she will either shout or instinctively smack or do both to her daughter.
This impulsiveness could help explain why some people, especially criminals, just ‘snap’. Another example of this would be a victim of domestic violence. Some women just ‘snap’, and inflict serious or fatal harm on her abusive husband after putting up with domestic violence for years. Bearing in mind that abused wives put up with the same abuse, with the same rushes of hormones, yet ‘snap’ at that moment. So the usefulness of learning about hormones would be to try and gain a greater understanding of impulsive behaviour. However, it’s argued that criminal acts are the fault of the individual. Regardless of the biology involved.
Biology of Crime, Generalised
Bull & McAlpine (1998) believes that facial stereotypes influences judgement of guilt. This type of stereotype is enhanced through the media, suggesting that casting editors tend to choose the same actors to play villains. It is suggested that society tend not to be nice to those considered to be unattractive, thus, in time, these individuals begin to loose self-esteem and act to fit their stereotype. Masters & Greaves (1969) comically surveyed the incidence of facial deformities in 11,000 prisoners and concluded that 60% of them had facial deformities, whereas only 20% had deformities in the non-criminal community. It is suggested here that crime is triggered because of the social consequences of their disability.
Lombroso, however, argued that criminals were genetically different from non-criminals and this difference could be seen in people’s faces. Lombroso suggests that a range of physical characteristics reveal clues that people are ATAVISTIC. (Meaning that someone is below another on the evolution ladder or going backwards). Lombroso’ view was that criminals displayed features that resembled or had much in common with inferior animals lower down the evolutionary scale.
Lombroso (1911) laughably suggested that the distinctive appearance of criminals were similar to chimps and that female offenders were more like men biologically. “The criminal by nature has a feeble cranial capacity, a heavy and developed jaw, projecting (eye) ridges, an abnormal and asymmetrical cranium…Projecting ears, frequently a crooked or flat nose. Criminals are subject to colour blindness, left-handedness is common and their muscular force is feeble”.
A criticism of Lombroso work is that he did not use a proper control group, as he didn’t compare one group with another. Also, his samples did contain large numbers of the mentally disturbed. He also failed to recognise that correlation does not imply causality as there was no relation between the two and he ignored social and psychological factors. Also, other factors such as poverty and deprivation produced the physical defects he noticed, rather than them being the result of genetic transmission. (Class handout).