Anthropological research data has shown the violence is inherent conduct among the primate species (Walker, 2001). In society, criminal violence is a common occurrence and legislators have suggested that the behavior of criminals be analyzed in order to identify any psychological patterns that are consistent among these particular types of individuals. In the past few decades, neurobiologists have proposed that an individual’s condition, which encompasses empathy, morality, and free will, is holistically influenced by the frequency of stimulation and assembly of the neurons of an individual. Such notion is contradictory to the concept of Cartesian dualism, which states that the brain and the mind are two independent entities that coordinate with each other. To date, the accumulation of research reports from the field of neuroscience is gradually affecting the concepts and effectiveness of the justice system because of the shifting in the concept of human behavior and response to different stimuli. Neuroscience has influenced our current understanding of the multiple factors that govern violent behavior among criminals.
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The 19th-century classic report of Phineas Gage regarding the anti-social behavior that emerged after massive damage of the prefrontal cortex of his brain from a railroad accident is now considered as the birth of the field of forensic neurology (Harlow, 1848). Today, computerized imaging of his fractured skull has shown that the autonomic and social nerve systems are the specific damages that were affected, thus resulting in a totally different individual. Such observation, together with research results gathered from war veterans, has led to the conclusion that violent criminal behavior is caused by injuries to the frontal lobe of the brain. It has then been proposed that injury to the prefrontal cortex of the brain causes a condition that has been coined as acquired sociopathy or pseudopsychopath (Blair and Cipolotti, 2000). It is interesting to know that there is an 11% reduction in the size of the grey matter of the prefrontal cortex among patients diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder (APD) (Raine et al., 2000). A related observation has also been observed between intelligence and alterations in the grey matter of the prefrontal cortex.
The temporal lobe of the brain has also been determined to influence an individual’s emotional response and aggression, wherein lesions in the amygdala of the temporal lobe result in an individual’s failure to recognize fear and sadness among the faces of other people (van Elst et al., 2001). The connection between the decreased expression of the monoamine oxidase A enzyme and reactive violence has already been established (Caspi et al., 2002). Monoamine oxidase A is responsible for the catabolism of monoamines such as serotonin (5-HT). The working hypothesis currently accepted is that the prefrontal-amygdala connection is altered, resulting in dysfunctional aggressive and violent behavior, resulting in criminality in particular individuals.
Earnest A. Hooton (1887 – 1954) is a highly acclaimed physical anthropologist and evolutionist. Much of his work focused on interindividual variations based on physiological and anatomical characteristics, including measurements of buttock-knee lengths as the main basis for constructing seats for the Pennsylvania railway trains. Hooton was also recognized for his concepts in primatology and comparative anatomy as a basis for explaining differences in the human as well as primate species. He was successful in describing a primary race, which can be further subdivided into several racial subtypes. He is a proponent of the concept of eugenics, which involves the genetic selection of traits that are deemed beneficial to the current population. The field of eugenics has been an interest in the field of biology and medicine because it facilitates the creation of new haplotypes that may be positive selection in the course of evolution.
Hooton’s work is also significant to our current scientific concept of crime because he persistently attempted to prove that criminals have biologically distinct characteristics from non-criminals. His anthropological work on physical differences is based on a population of approximately 13,873 male prisoners from 10 different states across the United States. His results strengthened his claim on the biological causes of violence and aggression and that he claimed that criminal behavior is a simple representation of an inferior type of human species that has degenerated. Unfortunately, Hooton was inadequate in integrating the concept of population genetics into his research because he haphazardly took 3,023 men from the general population to conduct a comparative analysis of physical differences. His measurement of foreheads, eyelids, ears, cheekbones, jaws, chins, and shoulders resulted in confusing supportive evidence for his claim. He explained in one of his published works that biology plays a major role in the development of individuals and society and that the environment is wrongly blamed for any failure that befalls an individual (Hooton, 1939). The research claim of Hooton had sparked more effort into determining the basis behind criminality. Other researchers from different fields of specialization ridicule Hooton’s work, describing it as a comical attempt in defining criminal behavior. The general reaction to Hooton’s claim that criminals are biologically inferior was condemned. Sociologists refused to accept the notion that physical unattractiveness is strongly correlated to criminal behavior.
The self-control theory as proposed by Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) couples an argument regarding the driving force behind criminality and the features of a criminal act. Gottfredson and Hirschi contend that crime is similar to other out of control and unlawful actions such as alcoholism and smoking because it generates in an individual a temporary yet immediate feeling of gratification. This kind of action is created by a condition that is characterized by low self-control. The authors claim that the condition of having poor self-control is an innate condition that is set in place during early childhood at around 7 or 8 years of age. In relation to the mechanism behind criminality, the authors explain that crime is a straightforward action to results in gratification in an individual. Such perception of crime is associated with a number of implications to the general theory of crime. Firstly, the general theory of crime presents that crime is an uncomplicated action that does not need any strategic preparation or intricate knowledge. Secondly, the general theory of crime is related to a number of elements that are included in the theory of routine activities because just like other uncontrolled acts, crimes are not planned and it is easy for individuals with low self-esteem to be easily motivated to commit such acts. In addition, criminality is strongly influenced by external factors such as the scarcity of easy targets as well as the presence of associates that are capable of helping or even performing a criminal act. The theory of crime by Gottfredson and Hirschi regarding the early age of 7 or 8 also entails that the longitudinal analysis of crime is not necessary and that age-correlated theories of crime are confusing.
The general theory of crime of Gottfredson and Hirschi also considers the fundamental argument regarding age and the unlawful act. It is actually different from what is presented at general courses in criminology regarding the analysis of age-crime correlations and social factors that are related to crime. A distinction of the general theory of crime of Gottfredson and Hirschi is that the age-crime linkage is very different through time, location, and culture that the age-crime correlation is irrelevant to any social explanation. Their general theory of crime also describes that criminals continue to perform unlawful acts of crime even during marriage and eventually end up as unmarried criminals. The same thing goes with offenders who are currently employed—these individuals generally continue on as offenders and the only difference after some time is that they lose their jobs. The general theory of crime of Gottfredson and Hirschi thus presents an argument against the connection of crime with marriage and employment thus showing that a criminal is incompetent in maintaining a relationship in a marriage or a commitment to work because he is commonly known as a person of very low command of his control. Their presentation of the force behind criminality is thus focused on self-control and the authors point out that most investigations regarding criminality do not include this concept.
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Theories of criminality have suggested that different factors cause an individual to perform an unlawful act. In the general theory of crime, illegal action is described as an uncomplicated action that does not need any strategic preparation or intricate knowledge. Other theories describe that criminality is strongly influenced by external factors such as the scarcity of easy targets as well as the presence of associates that are capable of helping or even performing a criminal act. The association of biology and criminality based on modifications of the brain also stands as a strong influence on the behavior of an individual.
- Blair RJ and Cipolotti L (2000): Impaired social response reversal. A case of ‘acquired sociopathy’. Brain 123:1122–1141.
- Caspi A, McClay J, Moffi tt TE, Mill J and Martin J (2002): Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science 297:851–854.
- Gottfredson MR and Hirschi T (1990): A General Theory of Crime. In: Jacoby JE (ed.): Classics of criminology, 3rd ed. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.
- Harlow J (1848): Passage of an iron bar through the head. Boston Med Surg J 13:389–393.
- Hooton EA (1939): Crime and the man. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Raine A, Lencz T, Bihrle S, LaCasse L and Colletti P (2000) Reduced prefrontal gray matter volume and reduced autonomic activity in antisocial personality disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry 57:119–127.
- van Elst LT, Trimble MR, Ebert D, van Elst LT (2001) Dual brain pathology in patients with affective aggressive episodes. Arch Gen Psychiatry 58:1187–1188.
- Walker PL (2001): A bioarchaeological perspective on the history of violence. Annu Rev Anthropol 30: 573–596.