Criminology Theories Causes of Crime

Why do people commit a crime? Is crime free will? Is it genetic or in our DNA? Do our environment cause crime? Does our social status encourage us to break the law? Are we influenced by society? Theorists have study crime and behavior as early as the 1800s. Many theories were made, and many claimed to know the reason for the criminal behavior. Interactionist, Sociological, Classical, and Biological are a few of the theories studied.

The Biological theory states human behavior is based on genetics (Briggs, n.

d). Criminal behavior is passed generation to generation, through human DNA, contaminants, nutrition, hormones, trauma to the brain, exposure to drugs and alcohol during pregnancy, and body chemistry (Briggs, n.d). Early studies are built on evolutionary principles. Cesare Lombroso believed criminals are not fully evolved or developed (Rassti, 2015). Early studies also focused on body constitution, heredity, and intelligence. Lombroso supported physiognomy (the study of facial features), phrenology (the study of bumps on skull), and atavism (born criminal) (‘Theories of Crime: Classical, Biological, Sociological, Interactionist’, 2017).

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In an Internet video, Rassti (2015) states that the concept of atavism is the result of primitive urges that survived the evolutionary process and that “criminaloids” were people pulled into breaking the law by environmental influences.

Early research targeted the appearance of criminals. People with unusual features such as an oddly shaped nose, big jaws, long arms, or ape-like appearances would be more likely to commit a crime (Rassti, 2015). Studies show that body types were also considered to identify a criminal.

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A soft body build human is considered non-violent, versus an athletic build human was perceived as a violent person. Also, emotional human beings were classified to commit sexual offenses and crimes of passion (Plunkett, 2015). Modern Biological theories focused more on XYY Syndrome, limbic system, and neurotransmitters. The XYY Syndrome is known as “super males.” Males with the extra Y chromosome have more behavior problems, low IQ, difficulty adapting to stress, and learning disabilities. The limbic system controls emotion (fear and anger). Damage to the prefrontal cortex can cause aggression and impulsive behavior, which could result in crime (Rassti, 2015). Serotonin, (a chemical used to transmit messages between nerve cells and contributes to wellbeing and happiness) at low levels is associated with high violence. Theorists compared the level of serotonin to the history of violence in humans (Rassti, 2015). Therefore, Biological theory, states a poor diet, genetics, evolution, and brain chemistry explanations for crime (Briggs, n.d).

Cesare Beccaria is considered to be the Classical theory founder (Plunkett, 2015). According to ‘Theories of Crime: Classical, Biological, Sociological, Interactionist'(2017), “Classical theory states that humans are rational and make decisions freely and with an understanding of consequences. Crime is an immoral form of human behavior. Such behavior weakens society, punishment is necessary, crime prevention is possible through swift and certain punishment, more prisons, laws, and greater penalties.” Classical theory is similar to a Rational Choice theory. Rational choice theory states people act in their self-interest. They make decisions to commit crime after weighing the potential risk against the rewards (Briggs, n.d). While Biological theory focus on genetics, brain function, and appearance Classical theory believe that humans act on free will (Rassti, 2015).

The Sociological theory states the circumstances and social factors create criminal behavior. (‘Theories of Crime: Classical, Biological, Sociological, Interactionist’, 2017). Social conditions such as poverty, weak or broken bonds with family, powerlessness, and lack of opportunity lead people to crime (Rassti, 2015). Social disorganization (a person’s physical and social environment are primarily responsible for behavioral choices) and Social control (most people would commit a crime if not for the controls that society places on individuals through institutions) both fall under the Sociological theory (Briggs, n.d). According to ‘Theories of Crime: Classical, Biological, Sociological, Interactionist'(2017), “those who support the Sociological theory believe positive alternates divert people from crime, creating a sense of belonging, and social programs that change the culture and social conditions could reduce crime.”

Interactionist theory/Social learning theory states people develop the motivation to commit crimes and the skills to commit crime through association with other criminals (‘Theories of Crime: Classical, Biological, Sociological, Interactionist’, 2017). Some characteristics of this theory are modeling behavior, failure of self-direction, and inadequate social roles. According to this theory, individuals seek acceptance and power.

Labeling theory states people in power decide which acts are crimes and the act of labeling someone as criminal is what makes them a criminal. Briggs (n.d), “Labeling theories of crime are often referred to as social reaction theories because they focus primarily on the consequences of responses or reactions to crime” (Labeling theory). Once a person is labeled a criminal, society takes away their opportunities which may lead to more criminal behavior (Briggs, n.d).

Strain theory targets aggression and frustration. Strain theory also states that certain strains or stressors increase the likelihood of crime. Such strains lead to negative emotions(Angnew, 2015)In an Internet video, Rassti (2015) states that frustration is a result of aggression, aggression is a result of frustration, and aggression is a result of strain. Angnew (2015), “the major versions of strain theory describe the particular strain most likely to lead to crime, why strains increase crime, and factors that lead a person to dissuade a person from responding to crime”. People have similar aspirations, but not the same opportunities or abilities. Failing in society with hard work people tend to achieve success through crime (Briggs, n.d). There are sources of strain: presences of negative stimuli, removal of positive stimuli, a perception in inequity, and failure to achieve desired goals (Rassti, 2015). According to this theory, these sources led to criminal behavior.

In conclusion, many have studied human behavior and why crimes are committed. Is it our living conditions? Were we born into criminal behavior? Is crime derived from stress? Could it be a combination of all things? These theories attempt to provide explanations for crime. They also provide solutions in which they think are effective. I do not agree with some of the reasons. However, I do understand how strain, social environment, and modeling behavior can influence our actions.

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Criminology Theories Causes of Crime. (2021, Dec 14). Retrieved from

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