Theories On Inherent Criminality In Individuals Criminology Essay

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Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) was a phrenologist who believed that areas of the brain associated with specific personality trains or behavioural tendencies could be located by examining the contours of the skull. He claimed that various irregularities found reflected brain abnormalities and these were found in those residing in prisons and mental institutes. Following this Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) stated that criminals had a different genetic constitution to non-criminals and their behaviour was innate. In addition to this he suggested they inherited certain 'physiognomic attributes' including asymmetry of the skull and overly large eyes and lips. These ideas were very influential until Goring (1913) conducted research showing they have no validity.

The constitutional approach

William Sheldon (1942) developed a theory postulating that all humans fell into one of three 'somatotypes' of body types; the endomporph, mesomorphy and ectomorphy. Each of these categories correlates with a set of personality characteristics. Sheldon claimed that the mesomorphy type would be most commonly associated with criminal behaviour due to its related traits of competitiveness, impulsivity and aggression. Sheldon & Glueck (1956) matched 500 delinquents and 500 non-delinquents for age, intelligence and ethnic background etc and found that 60% of delinquents were classified as mesomorph compared with 30% of non-delinquents. Studies such as Glueck & Glueck (1956) and Cortes & Gatti (1972) have supported these findings, although McCandless et al (1972) failed to replicate this.

Whilst there is some support for this theory, critics have suggested that crime and body types may be related a different way. Body types such as the mesomorphs may be more likely to attract police attention and will therefore appear to represent a large percentage of the criminal population. Feldman (1977) suggests that due to its muscular physique, a mesomorph individual may be more likely to succeed when committing a crime.

Various research has also been conducted into the link between deformity and crime. Masters & Greaves (1969) found that of 11,000 prisoners, 60% were found to have facial disfigurements compared with only 20% of non-offenders and Thompson (1990) estimated that there are 250,000 disfigured offenders in Us prisons at any given time. A link between 'minor physical anomalies' including webbed toes and asymmetrical ears correlate with offending. However, it is more likely that disfigured individuals are treated differently by others, and do not receive the same opportunities as others which leads to delinquency, rather than a direct causal relationship.

Evolution and Crime

The search for a more accurate explanation of crime has lead to the idea that the aggression associated with violent crime is in fact an innate human trait. Those demonstrations of more aggressive behaviours would have been more likely to survive, so a genetic propensity for aggression is likely to be inherited by offspring. However, intentional violence relating to crimes such as murder, robbery and rape appears is a maladaptive form of the aggression that aids survival.

Goodall (1991) stated that some chimpanzees kill others in order to maintain the place at, or the reach the top of the social hierarchy and it's possible that these acts of human violence relate to status. Daly & Wilson (1997) suggest that this may be particularly relevant when considering interfamily murders.

Genes and Crime

Whilst no specific 'criminal gene' has been found, there are some theories that suggest a genetic propensity for crime can be inherited. In their 'Cambridge study', Farrington & West (1990) found that the children of criminal fathers were twice as likely to offend as those with non-criminal fathers. Osborn & West (1979) also demonstrated this, finding that 40% of criminal fathers had criminal sons, as opposed to only 13% of non-criminal fathers. In these cases environmental factors cannot be ruled out.

Twin studies have therefore been conducted in an attempt to more precisely define if there is a direct genetic link between crime and genetics. Lange (1931) found that 77% of 13 pairs of monozygotic twins had both been convicted of crime and imprisoned compared with 12% of 17 pairs of dizygotic twins. Christiansen (1977) looked at 3,586 pairs of twins and found that 52% of monozygotic twins were concordant for criminal behaviour and only 22% of dizygotic twins. Research by Jaffee et al (2005) highlighted a genetic vulnerability suggesting that certain children are more likely to offend following mistreatment. It has been argued however that monozygotic twins will be treated far more similarly and will have more similar behavioural responses, thus it is likely that the concordance rates found may still be down to environmental ad social factors, not simply genetics.

Hutchings & Mednick (1975) looked at 1000 adoptees and found that when their father was a criminal 21.4% of sons also became criminal, 11.5% if their adoptive father was a criminal and only 10.5% if neither was. When both fathers were offenders 36.3% also had a criminal record. Further research by Mednick et al (1984) again shows that adoptees are more likely to offend if both fathers have a criminal record, this research also highlighted the crucial interaction between environmental and genetic factors.

Chromosomal Theory; XYY Syndrome.

Whilst humans usually have 46 pairs of chromosomes, approximately 1 in 1,000 males carries an additional Y chromosome called the 'XYY Syndrome'. Lerner & Libby (1976) found that in Carstairs maximum security hospital, 7 out 197 who suffered from the syndrome had been convicted of violent offences, similarly Witkin et al (1976) found that 12 of 4591 men with the extra Y chromosome were more likely to offend. For sufferers of the XYY syndrome there is a slightly increased risk of behaviour problems, but the vast majority of convicted criminals do not have any chromosomal abnormality.

Biochemical Explanations.

There is a large body of research that suggests a persons biochemistry and behaviour are strongly linked, and that things such as hormones may influence things such as criminal activity. Higher levels of testosterone and androgens have been found in prisoners, and have been linked with antisocial behaviour. Virkkunen (1986) suggested that there may be a link between hypoglycaemia and violent behaviour. Links have also been drawn between aggression and low levels of serotonin (Moir & Jessel, 1995). There are a wide variety of other factors that should be considered including diet, a economic situation, as these may also be influential.

Neurological Explanations

Research has indicated that there is a also link between certain brain abnormalities and criminal behaviour. Damasio (2000) and Raine (2000) measured brainwave activity in sufferers of 'anti-social personality disorder' and it was found that they are significantly less aroused than non-sufferers when either hurting others or being hurt themselves. Due to being less affected physiologically by these stimuli, they are less affected by the harm they cause to others, or indeed to punishment. Blair et al (1997) measured the galvanic skin responses of imprisoned male psychopaths when exposed to distressing stimuli and found that it was much higher than non-psychopathic inmates. Lewis et al (1986) also found that a significant number of death row inmates had suffered varying degrees of head injury as children. Both Wexler (1980) and Yeudall et al (1982) have noted that in a large number of repeat offenders the right hemisphere of the brain does not work correctly. As the right temporal lobe controls fear responses, damage to this area results in the individual being less likely to experience anxiety, which is an essential part of regulating criminal behaviour.

There are instances were head injury, infections and tumours have been linked the violent behaviour. Charles Whitman (1941-1966) shot and killed 14 students and injured 31 others at the University of Texax, it was later shown that he had a large tumour in the amygdala. Conditions such as these are however rare, and whilst a causal relationship may be evidence, it's again impossible to exclude other variables such as environment.

Psychoanalytic Theories

Whilst psychoanalytic theories stem from the work of Freud, Aichorn (1925) was the first person to apply these ideas to crime. He proposed the idea of an underlying predisposition for offending behaviour named 'latent delinquency'. This is party innate, but also determined by a child's early emotional relationships. Aichorns view was that along with the development of a childs ego and superego, they become 'socialised' and behave according to social rules. In some, this does not occur; leaving the ID to dominate thus meaning behaviour is dominated by the 'pleasure principle' rather than the 'reality principle'. This failed psychological development results in criminal behaviour. Both Sullivan (1953, 1965) and Abrahamsen (1960) emphasised the importance of social experiences on personality development, with Abrahamsen saying, "every element that prevents children from developing in a healthy way…tends to bring about a patter of emotional disturbances, which is always at the root of antisocial or criminal behaviour."

An important characteristic of the 'reality principle' is learning to delay gratification in order to achieve a greater long term gain. The idea that the criminal is unable to delay gratification is central to many psychoanalytical theories (Alexander & Staub, 1931, Alexander & Healy, 1935).

Healy & Bronner (1936) suggested that criminal behaviour was a result of unsatisfied desires that are a result of failure to form or experience early emotional relationships, and offending is therefore a sublimation of these desires as they cannot be expressed in other ways.

The most influential of psychoanalytically based theories is the 'maternal deprivation theory' Bowlby (1946). Bowlby argued that disruption of attachment between mother and child for more 6 months or more in the early years was linked with deviance. When comparing groups of delinquents and non-delinquents he found that 39% of the former group had experienced separation from their mothers before the age of 5, compared with 5% of the latter group.

Bowlbys theory has been heavily criticised on methodological grounds, as well as for not considering factors such as the reason for separation and how separation directly leads to offending as reasons for separation such as socio-economic reasons or the illness of parent/child may influence a child's development. Eysencks Theory

Eysenck (1976, 1987) propsed the first 'interactional' theory of criminality. He emphasised the importance of heredity after looking at the evidence from various twin and family studies suggesting a genetic component to criminal behaviour. Adoption studies show that offending behaviour is most likely when both biological and adoptive parents are criminals thus suggesting a second component to criminal behaviour; the environment. Eysenck stated that the interaction between the two leads to distinct differences in personality, of which there are three independent dimensions: extraversion (E), neuroticism (N) and psychoticism (P). According to the theory, the 'extravert' is chronically under aroused meaning they are impulsive and will continually seek excitement. Introverts however, are chronically over aroused meaning they tend to avoid excitement, which leads to conditioning more readily than extraverts. The autonomic nervous system controls responses to unpleasant/painful stimuli, and neuroticism is related to the functioning of this. High levels of anxiety may inhibit conditioning. The individual least likely to condition well is the 'neurotic extravert', which can relate to criminality.

The 'conscience' is a set of emotional responses which are conditioned through antisocial behaviour and the environment. As a child, antisocial behaviour is usually punished, however those high on E and N are less likely to develop a conscience as they condition poorly. Eysenck (1987) argues that it is the conscience that controls antisocial behaviour, so those without, are likely to become criminals. Eysenck argues that the personality dimension of P also relates to crime. Adoption studies have shown that the children whose biological mothers are psychotic are more likely to have children who are also psychotic/psychopathic than the adopted children of non-psychotic mothers.