Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Biological Theory of Crime

The common assumptions of the biological theories of crime are that physical attributes can lead an individual to criminal activities. Generally, the thought was that certain physical attributes were passed down from parent to child, making the child more at risk of committing crimes. These earlier theories of crime focused on heredity, and were quick to make assumptions about the findings of the research.

Johan Caspar Lavater believed that the shape of the skull and other facial features impacted human conduct. Cesare Lombroso took these ideas to a new level and began examining other parts of the body and not just the facial features and skull shape. Lombroso wanted to look at other characteristics, such as ear size, amount of hair, length of hair, etc. to compare the characteristics of criminals to other animals that were considered to be more primitive.

Charles Goring attempted to expand upon Cesare Lombroso’s research to discover if it held any truth. Goring developed a study that compared prisoners with members of the Royal Engineers of London and found no differences in facial features or skull sizes between the two groups. However, Goring did conclude that he prisoners tended to have “inferiority in stature and in body weight” (Vold and Bernard and Snipes, 2002:34-35). However, modern criminologists tend to disregard the research stating that it was enough of a difference between stature and body weight to be significant. These previous biological theories generally did not take social factors into consideration when conducting their research, which results in many individuals feeling as if the data is flawed.

More recent research into the biological theories of crime examine neurotransmitters, hormones, the central nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system. These theories do accept some social factors into the given thoughts. However, these theories still focus on the biological aspect of why crimes are committed. For neurotransmitters, there is the belief that those with lower levels of specific kinds of neurotransmitters are more likely to be anti-social.

There is a belief that when certain hormones are released it makes the individual more likely to act in an aggressive way. Some individuals believe that problems can occur in the central nervous system, specifically in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. It is believed that problems within the frontal lobe can lead the individual to be more violent, whereas irregularities within the temporal lobe can lead an individual to be more sexual offending.

Others believe that the “fight or flight” response in the autonomic nervous system may not work properly in some individuals making them more likely to be involved in criminal behavior.
I thought that the most surprising aspect of the chapter was that individuals were so quick to follow the earlier biological theories of crime when the research was broad, difficult to reproduce, and didn’t examine sociological manners in any detail. I think that these individuals wanted a quick an easy answer to why crime occurs, and this was the easiest answer for people to believe.
However, in my opinion, criminal behavior is a vast topic that doesn’t just have one simple answer to why it occurs. It has many different possible answers and outcomes, and each situation may have a different reason for the actions occurring.


Your Friend Randall said...

Cesare Lombroso supported the Physiological theory of criminology not the biological. The biological theory of criminology focuses on the genetic, biochemical, or neurological deficiencies. The physiological theory focues on the phisical appearnce of the offender. The two are often mistaken; that being said, good post.

dyerxx said...

Actually, biological theories adhere to the the principle that the basic determinants of human behaviour, including criminality, are constitutionally or physiologically based and inherited. Therefore, physical and physiological traits fall under and can be defined from the biological perspective.