Psychological and Biological approaches to crime and deviance

7 July 2016

?Comparing Biological and Psychological Approaches to Crime I was interested in assessing two different approaches to the important issue of crime in society. The articles I chose seek to find different causes to crime via psychological and biological approaches respectively. In this essay I will summarise and analyse both articles and explain how they can be useful in the prevention of crime. For my first journal article I looked at ‘A Psychological Approach to Deterrence: The Evaluation of Crime Opportunities’ By John S. Carroll (1978).

This article involves a study which aims to describe how crime could be a result of psychological means, including a ‘New Approach to Deterrence’ (p1513). The article explains how by the use of experimental psychology we can arrive at a rational explanation to how crime comes about. In the study Carroll asked participants to look over a number of crime opportunities with 4 key dimensions. These were (a) the probability of a successful crime, (b) the amount of money to be obtained if successful, (c) the probability of capture, and (d) the penalty if caught (p1513).

The study aimed to see which of these factors people placed the most emphasis on and to see how people combined the four to produce what they thought was the most advantageous criminal outcome for them by combining risk and reward. Carroll notes that the study ‘should not be considered a model of criminal behaviour’ but an attempt to show that the evaluation of potential criminal acts is greatly simplified in humans (p1514). The results showed that in adults, the amount of money involved is what most people prioritised and was significant in 83.

4% of subjects (p1516). In juveniles however, the results showed that they prioritised probability; the probability of a successful crime and the probability of capture. Carroll concluded that the decision to commit a crime is based upon the opportunities presented by a given situation. This article provides an innovative and not widely recognised theory about the rationality and reasoning for committing a crime. It is a valuable addition to the issue of deterrence in society and gives its view from a different vantage point (p1520).

The results of the study can give insight to criminologists and psychologist in the way that it builds upon a classic argument with more modern results, however in addition to this there are some major flaws and disadvantages to the article. One of the main disadvantages linked to the sample used is that it was not universally representative. The participants used were all from the same region and were only chosen from 4 institutions. This means the results may not be valid.

Also the study was entirely quantitative, leaving no room for participants to express their views in their own words. This could result in results being invalid because participants may have not been able to say exactly what they wanted to. (Neuman W. (1991) Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches; p344). However an advantage of using quantitative data is that the results can be controlled and do not need interpreting, meaning the study has a level of reliability (Neuman W.

(1991) Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches; p13 Table 1. 2). My second article I used was ‘Reflections on Wye Woods: Crime, Biology, and Self-Interest’ by Evan Balaban. In summary this article aimed to explain that biological and genetic factors should be taken into consideration when trying to find potential offenders, and that this information can help prevent crime by finding potential offenders and stopping them before they actually commit a crime.

Balaban goes on to explain that if this approach is wrongly undertaken it can have serious consequences with respect to the labelling and stigmatization of people before they have even committed a crime. (p86) Balaban discusses the humanitarian approach to the the biology of crime and violence and the idea that biology has ‘something to contribute to public policy on violence and crime’ (p86). He explains how biology can be explained as either utterly meaningless or as a highly advantageous predictor of future happenings resulting in the benefit of society.

He goes on to argue that if we completely discredit biology with respect to crime we are leaving a vast gap in the knowledge about the criminal and the prevention of future crime. After reading and analysing the article I came across a few flaws in Balaban’s argument. He understandably stresses the importance of biological issues relating to crime as it is an important concept in which I believe should be heavily taken into account when attempting to predict future offenders and to prevent it; however he doesn’t touch on any environmental issues relating to the ‘nurture’ side of the nature-nurture debate.

He fails to consider that theories such as Social Learning Theory (A. Bandura) also play a major role in the prediction and prevention of crime. Social Learning Theory explains crime through the imitation of role-models, and it is these role models who influence the behaviour of younger people, be it aggressive or criminal, which could eventually result in a crime being committed. (Harasim, Linda M (Linda Marie), 1949: Learning Theory and Online Technologies: p10-11).

This behaviourist approach in conjunction with the more scientific approach proposed by Balaban is what many people consider to be the most advantageous way of predicting and preventing crime and deviance. After summarising and critically assessing both articles I feel that they both significantly contribute to the areas of sociology of crime and deviance which I find most interesting and influential.

Despite their flaws I still believe that they give good insight into the psychological and biological issues discussed. Overall I believe that John S. Carroll’s article on the psychological approach to crime and deviance provides a deeper insight and understanding of the issues presented and it is superior to Balaban’s article in the way that it provides an innovative way into the understanding of the psychology of crime which is not always considered or used. Word count: 997

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