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The aim of this essay is to assess the biological perspective of crime from a critical point of view; it will have discussions upon the background of biological perspectives, what it is and what it does, along with what role it plays in today's society. A critical analysis of the biological theory will then be undertaken, which will include how it explains crime and the emphasis brought on by such theories of criminology. Genetic factors will be discussed and will include how the extent of genetic inheritance is responsible for criminal behaviour of an individual. A critical argument as to whether or not this kind of explanation leaves room for free will occur. Finally, various studies will be considered and will be used when finalising an examination as to what degree biological criminality helps us understand crime.
Biological perspectives about the causes of crime are focussed on ideologies that the physical body has an influence on an individuals' involvement in criminal behaviour; these physical characteristics are applied through an individuals' inherited genes, factors in evolution, structure of the brain and/or the role of hormones. More importantly, biological studies on the influence of criminal behaviour are focussed on how the nervous system functions and how the endocrine system affects behaviour and mental processes. Studies and constant research have given a growing understanding of physical mechanisms and has suggested that certain biological factors may all affect a person's tendency for criminal behaviour; these factors may include a particular gene, deficient serotonin in the body and/or pollutants from the environment. Biological perspectives include studying localisation of brain functions, sleep studies and physical changes which are associated with learning, memory, motivation and stress. Further, when focussing on crime, biological theorists aim to identify particular characteristics of the offender; for example, genetic make-up, brain activity and hormone levels/imbalances.
Upon looking into biological theories, a physical type can be identified; Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso is one theorist who looked into this. Lombroso began his studies during his term of army service. He made measurements of physical differences among soldiers from various regions of Italy; in his research on criminality Lombroso came to the conclusion that certain distinctive physical characteristics are connected with social behaviour. His conception of the "born criminal" resulted from his observations of the sane and insane, and of criminals and just citizens. All men, including the "born criminal," are born with certain abilities, both mental and physical, which influence their behavior. While Lombroso gradually came to acknowledge the existence of attained criminogenic factors, he proceeded to claim that the true criminal was a subspecies of man of an atavistic origin. However, Lombroso's theory had numerous critiques; his theory was produced in the 19th Century, in which has no NHS service, which put aside the fact that those who were classed as criminals, may have just been mentally ill, of whom would now be in a mental health institution. Further, his work ignored all social institutions and was only concentrated on genetic factors; this meant that any other influence that may have been present was overlooked and not included in his research. Finally, Lombroso failed to indicate what he actually meant when he labelled someone as a 'criminal'; his stereotype could have been a person ranging from anti-social (for example, being too loud), to extremely criminal (for example, committing a murder), this was inadequately explained by Lombroso, thus his argument was highly criticized.
A secondary biological psychologist who attempted to explain criminal behaviour was American psychologist Dr William Sheldon; he introduced the theory of Somatypes and further used this in an attempt to explain delinquent behaviour. His theory described three different human body types; each associated with personality characteristics, and linked these to different forms of criminality. The first of his three body types was the endomorph; this person would be likely to put on weight, have a round body, enjoy relaxation ad comfort, and would be an extrovert. Endomorphy focussed on the digestive system, particularly the stomach; it was noted that this person had the physical tendency towards 'plumpness' and had a tolerant temperament. The second type would be a mesomorph; these people were muscular, physically strong and active, and would have a dynamic personality. Mesophorphy focussed on the muscular and circulatory system, and noted that this person was courageous within his temperament. Finally the ectomorph; this person would be skinny, have a lean body, show prominent bones and would be an introvert. Ectomorphy focussed on the nervous system and the brain, with a tendency shown towards slightness. It was concluded by Sheldon that under the criminals he had studied, the most likely type was a mesomorph, with deficiencies in ectomorphy. However, with this being said, Sheldon was open to criticism; while mesomorphs were the most likely to be a criminal, they were proven to be the most likely to get attention from the police. Also, Sheldon did not account for those people whose body types may have changed over the course of their lives, due to diet/exercise and so on. Finally, it was noted that Sheldon's work was only conducted in youth institutions; thus making his findings ungeneralisable and unable to be applied to all types of criminal.
Another way in which criminal behaviour can be researched biologically would be through using 'family studies'; however, these are still not acknowledged by psychologists because of the trouble they come across in distinguishing between nature and nurture in the family atmosphere. In response to this, studies involving children were conducted by psychologists; especially twin studies. Twin studies are completed through comparing monozygotic twins and their rates of criminal tendencies with the rates of criminal tendencies of dizygotic twins. Psychologist Johannes Lange (1930) studied a crowd of thirty men in contrast with thirteen identical twins and seventeen fraternal twins all whom had a criminal record. He found that in 77% of the cases the twin had a criminal record. However, even though his results had positive correlations, it only included a small sample of participants, and it was proven difficult to control any factors that would influence criminal behaviour.
Here, the work of Hutchings and Mednick (1977) played a part in understanding twin studies in arguing the cause was distinctive. The aim of this study was observe the relationship which is present in adopted children, and their parents, both biological and adoptive. Hutchings and Mednick (1977) formed a study on male adoptees born in Copenhagen; the outcome of their research showed 48% of young males with a criminal record, which included 37.7% who had a record showing minor crimes correlated back to their fathers whom also had a criminal record. A further study shows 143 adoptees with a criminal record compared with a regulator group of the same number of adoptees but without a conviction. The study found 49% of the sample group had criminal birth fathers and 18% for birth mothers with a criminal record. 23% had criminal adoptive parents. In comparison with the control group, those with criminal birth fathers consisted of 28% and much lower when it came to birth mothers, 7 % and 9.8% of the group had criminal adoptive parents. These results however were later reiterated in Denmark 1924 and 1927 (Mednick et al, 1984); they also exhibited that both the adoptee child and birth father both had criminal records. This research therefore ended with consistent data that criminal characteristics were in fact distinctive. Although with results outlining the strength of the studies, was still proven difficult to interpret the results that crime is distinctive. These results have all failed to mention major factors which also influence criminal activity, such as environmental or social.
In addition to twin studies, a study conducted by Jacobs et al in 1965 had shown how XYY males were more prone to aggressive behaviour than that of the 'ordinary' XY male. The XYY syndrome was previously considered theÂ 'super-male'Â syndrome, in which men with this disorder were thought to be excessively hostile and more likely to become criminals. These original stereotypes came about when several researchers in the 1960s, namely Jacobs et al, found a high number of men with XYY syndrome in prisons and mental establishments. However, the original observations did not account for the fact that the majority of males with XYY syndrome were not in prisons or mental establishments. Since then, larger, less prejudiced studies have been done on males with XYY syndrome. Although males with XYY syndrome may be taller than the norm and have an amplified risk for learning complications, especially in reading and speech, they have not been proven to be overly aggressive.
As time has progressed, there has been a lot of research into the study of biological influences on crime, which have received positive and negative feedback; this feedback would be the basis of improvement should another researcher wish to further study into this area. Positive feedback from Lombroso's study would be that it saw crime as a form of illness caused by pathological factors, or genetic mutations; this meant that although his research may have been criticised once completed, he did stick to his hypothesis and found results that supported what he was researching into. However, it would be argued by further sociologists that although research had been shown to follow a hypothesis, the hypothesis may have been directional in the first instance, meaning it could only happen the way the researcher intended it to; for example, interactionist Becker would argue that a an offender is a criminal because they have been labelled as one, not because of their genetic make-up. Secondly, it had been proven by many researchers that individual differences in behaviour are a likely factor in the predisposition of certain people to committing crimes However, functionalists would further argue that an individual is not responsible for crime; it is merely a feature of all societies and should not be applied to one type of individual. On the other hand, biological perspectives are able to identify certain abnormalities within an individual which is a clear separation between those who are criminals and those who are not criminals, meaning it is easier to recognize the traits of a criminal before they commit a crime, with the attempt of them then stopping any criminal acts which may lie dormant. However, Marxists would disagree with this and argue that it is not the individual alone that shows a predisposition to crime, it occurs through the unfair capitalist system which causes class conflict, causing labelling to occur with the result of individuals being thought of criminals because of certain traits; this would not be seen by Marxists as being a biological factor. Finally, the biological theory is directional, it fails to account for a person's free will and choice of personal actions; this would mean that any crime committed must be a form of genetic mutation as this perspective does not account for any other explanation of criminal behaviour.
In conclusion, it could be said that the main strength of the biological perspective when explaining cause of crime would be its support; this perspective has a lot of evidence done by numerous researchers in order to support any theories or hypothesis that have been drawn up. Types of research undergone by those involved in the biological perspective are often very reliable as a result of using strict scientific methodology to define human behaviours. Those practical involvements based on the biological perspective have been proven reliable, including therapies and certain types of surgical procedures. However, the biological perspective is also often seen as limited as it neglects other possible causes for behaviour such as external events in a person's life, mental states and emotional desires. For example, it may be concluded that certain hormones can cause behavioural patterns, when reality shows the pattern is linked to a series of complex interactions between different hormones, influences and environmental triggers.
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