Biological Explanations of Criminal Behavior

9 September 2016

Explanations of Criminal Behavior Nature and nurture contribute to the way a person behaves. This can be applied to the behaviors of criminals. According to Fishbein (1990, pg. 37), “behavior [is] primarily attributed to inherited predispositions and genetic influences. ” Nurture is the environmental influence that shape human behavior (Fishbein, 1990, pg. 37). Human genetics and environmental factors contribute to the uniqueness to a person’s behavior. However, there are underlying qualities in a criminal’s historical background.

Aspects of the nature and nurturing of a criminal behavior includes some problems with earlier biological explanations and some recent biological explanations which have overcome the weaknesses of the earlier ones. These two aspects can be applied in criminology for the prevention of the development of criminal minds. Early biological explanations of criminal behavior had two different perspectives which came from the classical school and the positive school. Before the classical school, an offender was said to be guilty unless proven innocent. Whether proven guilty or innocent, torture was implicated upon the accused (Cartwright, 2009).

Biological Explanations of Criminal Behavior Essay Example

Cesare Becarria and Jeremy Bentham were the early criminologists that were opposed to this treatment. They argued that the punishments and death penalty of an accused person were harsh and inappropriate. The accused that were guilty were tortured twice as much as the people proven innocent. Nonetheless, the innocent were still tortured. Becarria thought that the death penalty was unfair because it went against an individual’s freedom and social contract (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008, pg. 113). Before the classical school, criminal offences and punishments were not written down.

Therefore, people of authority would execute them as they pleased. This is when Becarria thought that there should be specific criminal codes that state the legalities and illegalities of criminal actions and just punishments (Cartwright, 2009). Becarria had also mentioned that in order for a punishment to be effective, offenders should be punished in public. This would show civilians the consequences of criminal offences and therefore deter them from attempting to break the law. Jeremy Bentham stated that people committed crimes because they made rational choices and exercised free will.

This meant that society could do as they wish (Cartwright, 2009). In Bentham’s point of view, an offender was “a kind of rational calculator seeking to maximize pleasure and minimize pain…a person commits crimes when the pleasure promised by the offense outweighs the pain that the law threatens” (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008, pg. 113). This is way of thinking is called hedonism. In the positive school, the three main members were Cesarae Lombroso, Enrico Ferri, and Raffaele Garofalo. The positive school explained criminal behavior through scientific methods which involved determinism (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008, pg. 14). The positive school believed that human behavior was predetermined and the cause of this was hereditary (Cartwright, 1990). Lombroso, the father of modern criminology and founder of the positive school, based his arguments through biological factors. According to Sacco and Kennedy (2008, pg. 114) Lombroso believed there was such thing as an “atavistic criminal” which were offenders that were “less likely to conform to the demands of contemporary social life because they reflected a more primitive human condition. Enrico Ferri was not a believer of free will. Instead, he based his arguments on society, economy and political factors (Cartwright, 2009). Ferri believed that status in society, economical backgrounds, and political factors could lead to whether someone can behave criminally or not. As for Raffaele Garofalo, he argued that crimes were against the law of nature and compared criminals to parasites and the society to an organic body (Cartwright, 2009). The criminals will commit crimes that are not “natural”.

Ferri also compared criminals to diseases which should be removed or executed. The classical school and positive school were considered as early biological explanations to the development of criminal minds. According to Sacco and Kennedy (2008, pg. 116) the recent biological explanations are different compared to the earlier biological explanations in several ways. The recent explanation is concentrated more on genetic factors. Additionally, “the impact of biological factors is mediated by the social environment” (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008, pg. 116).

There are four main approaches that have overcome the weaknesses of the earlier biological explanations: the general pedigree studies, twin studies, adoption studies, and karyotype studies. The general pedigree studies involve people that are related to one another to see if they behave in similar ways. These studies show that people who manifest criminal behaviour are more likely to have offspring that do the same (Cartwright, 2009). However, evidence for the causality of criminal behaviour by genetics is lacking. Other factors that are environmental and accumulative should be considered (Cartwright, 2009).

Twin studies on the other hand, avoid the problem that the pedigree studies face. In twin studies, monozygotic (MZ) twins and dizygotic (DZ) twins are tested. According to Fishbein (1990, pg. 54), MZ twins inherit one hundred percent of their parents genes whereas DZ twins only inherit fifty percent. Studies have shown that if an MZ is involved in a criminal behavior, the other twin will also be involved in a criminal behavior. On the other hand, DZ twins will show less of these behavior similarities (Cartwright, 2009). Monozygotic twins raised in similar environments should act in concordance.

Concordance is “a quantitative measure of the degree to which the observed behavior or trait of one twin matches that of the other” (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008, pg. 118). Adoption studies are another way to research the effectiveness of genetics on behaviour. Researchers have stated that if the adopted child engages a criminal behavior, then this is a result of genes inherited from the biological parents (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008, pg. 119). However, if the adopted child does not display criminal behavior, then it is the environment that has influenced the child.

The last approach is the karyotype studies which examine an individual’s chromosomal shape, size, and abundance. Sacco and Kennedy (2008, pg. 119) mentioned that in male criminals, “the Y chromosome [had] a higher than expected probability of being larger” and that XYY karyotype is very rare. As for women, there is premenstrual syndrome (PMS) hypothesis. This is when women criminals are most likely to offend during their menstrual cycle due to instability of the hormones (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008, pg. 119).

Through the general pedigree studies, twin studies, adoption students and karyotype studies, criminologists are able to support the effectiveness of nature on the progression of the criminal mind. Upon these two aspects, the earlier and recent biological explanations could be a value to modern day criminologists. Criminologists are able to apply the biological influences that lead to criminal behavior into their work (Fishbein, 1990, pg. 36). As a result to the earlier biological explanations, the disciplinary actions in the classical school can be withheld until the accused have been proven guilty.

The positive school can have an effect to criminologists because the government can provide ways to acquire education and jobs to people (Cartwright, 2009). This way, people would not have to choose the criminal path just to get pleasure or money. Recent biological explanations can have the criminologists integrate what they learn into the education system where there is an emphasis on having a healthy environment for children. Despite genetics, children can still grow up not attempting to engage in criminal acts. Nature and nurture have contributed to the early and recent biological explanations of human behavior.

The overall problem with earlier biological explanations is that both the classical school and positive school argue that environmental factors have a direct connection to crime (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008, pg. 116). The earlier biological explanations may not be a complete way to determine causes to criminal behavior. The recent biological explanations have further built detailed and precise reasons as to why offenders behave the way they do. The scientific experimentation and case studies have lead to the four main approaches: general pedigree studies, twin studies, adoption studies, and karyotype studies.

These are all under the umbrella of genetic contributions. These factors can have a value to criminologists to build upon on their further studies to prevent the development of criminal minds. References Cartwright, B. (2009). Criminology 101 lecture on Biological, Psychological and Sociological Theories of Crime, delivered at Simon Fraser University on October 8, 2009. Fishbein, D. H. (1990). Biological Perspectives in Criminology. Criminology, 28(1), 27-72. Sacco, V. F. & Kennedy, L. W. (2008). Psychological Conditions and Criminal Motivations. The Criminal Event: An Introduction to Criminology in Canada

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