Crime is a very complex phenomenon that cannot be explained by a single theory or theoretical framework. There are very many types of crimes that are committed against humanity some of which include theft, murder, robbery, fraud, sexual assault, manslaughter and other offenses that are termed as criminal. When explaining the causes of each of these crimes, different theories are used to determine what leads offenders to commit these acts.
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Some of the theories that are used to explain criminal behavior include sociological theories which deal with improving the social world and environment for criminals to improve rehabilitation efforts, classical theories which focus on the punishment and deterrence of criminal behavior, social conflict theories which explain the conflict that exists between rich and poor people where poor people are driven to commit illegal criminal acts and the labeling theory where people from certain social groups are labeled as criminals. The theories that will be focused on in the discussion are the biological and psychological theories (Schmalleger, 2009).
Biological and Psychological Theories
Biological theories of crime are based on the assumption that people commit crimes because of certain genetic predispositions or neurological deficiencies that facilitate criminal causing behavior. Another assumption of biological theories is that the physical attributes and characteristics that make up an individual lead to criminal causing behavior. The general theoretical framework that guides these theories is based on the fact that certain genetic material is passed down from a parent to a child which eventually increases their risk of committing crimes.
Such frameworks were viewed to be the classical theories of crime which mostly focused on heredity predispositions and the biological composition of a human being. Criminologists such as Lavater and Lombroso focused on the hereditary composition of individuals who inherited criminal causing behavior from their parents by analyzing the shape of their skull, cranial structure and their facial features which were all deemed to have an impact on the conduct of human beings (Greene et al, 2007).
The modern criminal researchers have however taken a new approach to determining how the biological composition of a human being contributes to criminal causing behavior. These modern criminologists have completely rejected the classical theories of crime by arguing that these theories do not consider the social factors or characteristics that cause individuals to engage in criminal behavior. By focusing on the physical composition of human beings, the classical theorists were unable to offer a connection that would determine whether hereditary characteristics contributed to crime. This caused modern criminologists to shift their focus to using genetic vulnerabilities, neurotransmitters, physiological differences, personality and temperament differences, the central nervous system and biological irregularities in explaining criminal causing behavior in human beings (Greene et al, 2007).
The modern biological theories that are now used to explain criminal behavior involve an analysis of social factors while at the same time focusing on the biological factors that lead to crime in human beings. For example, the use of neuropsychological abnormalities in determining whether individuals have criminal behavior measures the level of electroencephalograms (EEG) in individuals which might cause them to be either social or anti-social.
Low levels of EEG irregularities indicate that an individual suffers from neurological deficits which in turn lead to poor impulse control and impaired judgment that might increase the risk of a person engaging in criminal behavior. The types of biological theories used to explain crime in human beings include biosocial arousal theories, autonomic nervous system theories, atavism and concordance theories (Greene et al, 2007).
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A biological theory that is used to explain criminal behavior is referred to as the autonomic nervous system (ANS) theory developed by Mednick. The theory is based on the assumption that individuals who inherit slow autonomic nervous systems are unable to control their aggressive or antisocial behavior. The ANS of a human being usually carries information from the brain to the rest of the organs in the body. These connections usually have an impact on the ANS which eventually leads to emotional instability in an individual. Emotional instability has been identified by many criminal researchers to be the one of the main causes of criminal behavior. Repeat criminal offenders are often in trouble because of their low levels of autonomic arousal which usually leads to weaker physiological reactions (Greene et al, 2007).
Psychological theories of crime on the other hand are based on the assumption that criminal behavior is caused by mental deficiencies and conflicts which might cause an individual to be involved in criminal behavior. These theories focus on the causes of crime at the individual level rather than relating crime to aspects such as mental abnormalities, mental illness and low intelligent quotient levels.
These theories explain crime to be caused by the personality or biological disparities in character which influences some individuals to commit criminal acts. Another assumption that is used to explain criminal causing behavior through the psychological theories is that individuals who have been inadequately socialized into the society might be at risk of committing criminal acts in the course of the lives. Inadequate socialization makes it difficult for such human beings to relate well with other members in society and such poor relationships might increase deviant behavior in these individuals (Akers & Sellers, 2004).
These theories consider the social factor as an important aspect in explaining the occurrence of criminal behavior in individuals. Psychological theories consider the socialization of individuals to be a contributing factor to deviant behaviors in the society. There are various types of psychological theories that are used to explain criminal behavior in human beings and these theories include psychoanalytic theories, personality theories, and cognitive development theories.
The psychological theory that will be examined in this study will be the theory of cognitive development which stipulates that unlawful character is as a result of the way people organize their thoughts based on certain aspects of morality and the law. This theory was developed by Kohlberg in 1958 when he tried to consider behaviorist explanations in the occurrence of criminal behavior in normal human beings (Reid, 1997).
The cognitive development theory focuses on the internal processes of cognitive behavior to determine the ethical and moral levels that an individual possesses when it comes to reasoning or distinguishing between right or wrong behavior. The major emphasis of the cognitive development theories was on deterministic factors which looked for causes of criminal activity in the family environment of a human being. Moral reasoning according to cognitive development was therefore determined by the level of expectations placed on the individual by their family members and other individuals from the society who had a significant impact on their lives. Kohlberg noted that these individuals valued the legal and social system but they acted as their own agents of change when it came to improving the existing law (Reid, 1997).
Difference between Biological and Psychological Theories
A major difference of the two theories is that biological theories focus on the biological composition of human beings to determine the crime causing factors or aspects that lead individuals to commit criminal acts. Psychological theories on the other hand focus on the socialization process of individuals and how this contributes to deviant behaviors in human beings.
Another difference that exists between the two theories as explained by Einstadter and Henry (2006) is that biological theories explain the background of nature in explaining criminal behavior while psychological theories focus on the aspect of nurturing in explaining deviant behavior in human beings. Nature deals with the general body composition of human beings while nurture refers to how human beings have been brought up or raised and whether this has any effect on their predisposition to criminal behavior.
Another difference that exists between these two theories is that biological theories of crime usually consider the direct effect of physical and physiological processes on the behavior of an individual and how this behavior indirectly affects their brain which primarily controls behavior. Psychological theories consider the combined effect that forces such as cognitive reasoning, personality traits and psychoanalysis affect the proper functioning of the brain. Another difference is that biological theories are based on the premise that some individuals are born with criminal genes or they inherit genetic predispositions to crime while psychological theories are based on the premise that individuals are exposed to certain environments that increase their predisposition to crime and criminal behavior (Einstadter & Henry, 2006).
The advantages of biological theories are that they offer a scientific assessment of crime based on the natural world of matter while at the same time ruling out the role of free will as the cause of criminal behavior. Biological theories consider the social factor of crime and they also provide a difference between normal people and social deviants. The biological method also analyses the interaction that exists between the genes and cells of a human being and their physiological and psychological process and how these interactions lead to criminal behavior. A major disadvantage of the biological theories is that they do not offer an alternative assumption as they are mostly based on the premise that all deviant or criminal behavior is caused by the interactions that exist between our genes and the environment (Einstadter & Henry, 2006).
The advantages of using psychological theories to explain crime are that psychological theories explain the occurrence of criminal behavior by examining the personality and cognitive characteristics of an individual. Another advantage of psychological theories is that they assess the mental and cognitive processes that take place when an individual is committing a crime as well as the personality deficiencies that cause individuals to engage in deviant behaviors within the society. A disadvantage of psychological theories is that they do not offer an alternative assumption to what causes crime in individuals as they mostly prescribe to the fact that crime is caused by the way an individual has been brought up (Einstadter & Henry, 2006).
This essay has dealt with biological and psychological crimes where the assumptions and frameworks that are used to explain the causal factors of crime have been explained for both theories. The essay has also identified and discussed the types of biological and psychological theories and how they explain the criminal behavior in human beings. The differences that exist between biological and psychological crimes have also been covered in the topic as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using both methods to explain crime and criminal behavior. While both theories are different in their approaches, they offer a more modernistic view of crime and the predispositions that lead human beings to commit crime
Akers, R.L., and Sellers, C.S., (2004). Criminological theories: introduction, evaluation and application, 4th Edition. California: Roxbury Publishing Company.
Einstadter, W.J., and Henry, S., (2006). Criminological theory: an analysis of its underlying assumptions. Oxford, UK: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
Greene, E., Heilbrun, K., Fortune, W.H., & Nietzel, M.T., (2007). Wrightman’s psychology and the legal system. Belmont, California: Wadsworth.
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Reid, S.T., (1997). Crime and Criminology. New York: Brown and Benchmark.
Schmalleger, F., (2006) Criminology today: an integrative introduction. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.