Crime's Biological and Psychological Roots

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Even though criminal codes have existed since Hammurabi wrote the first one in 1780 BC, criminology is a relatively new area of study, according to Siegel (2010). During the Middle Ages, debates about the origins of illegal activity began to emerge, as most people assumed that evil spirits and witchcraft drove those who couldn't stop. Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria were the first to theorize criminal activity with the Classical theory, which argued that crime is the product of rational choice and can be avoided by deterrent measures. Since the 1980s, criminologists have tried to develop and refine new theories on why people commit crimes. These included

theories that point to social, psychological and biological factors (Siegel, 2010). Sociological factors are not the only ones which lead to crime and there are some non-environmental factors like genes and neurological defects that drive individuals to commit crimes. Hence, it should be noted that there exist some biological factors such as genetic defects, psychological factors, and abnormalities of the brain caused by trauma that may lead an individual to carry out criminal activities. This, therefore, cancels out the notion that crime can be fully explained with regards only to the social settings as argued by sociologists like Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria. In support of this, the paper will review the biological and psychological factors as non-environmental ones that are known to influence crime and theories like “strain theory” that bridges the gap to explain that sociological factors solely do not lead to crime.

Crime Causation: Sociological Theories

Strain Theory

According to this theory, as explained by Agnew (2007), people who experience psychological stress, become upset, and at times commit crimes. They will opt to take part in various criminal activities so as to lessen or shake off the strain they are going through at the moment. For instance, a psychologically stressed individual may engage in violent behavior to stop harassment from other people, may opt to steal to trim down financial concerns, or even flee his or her home to break out from insulting parents (Agnew, 2007). In some cases, such a person may engage in criminal activities of using illicit drugs with intention of making oneself feel better. As explained through this theory, it is obvious that psychological factors like stress have some impacts as far as causes of criminal activities (Agnew, 2007).

Non-environmental Factors that Impact Criminal Activities and Examples

Biological Factors

Most biological theories of crime are based on the view that crime does originate from physical and genetic defects and that its management can only be ensured through the reduction of violence. This explains why I tend to disagree with the idea that sociological factors solely lead to crime. Biological theories were introduced by Cesare Lombroso, Franz Gall, Raffaele Garofalo, and Enrico Ferri just to name a few of the initiators. The major theories in the group include the earliest ideas of Somatotypes, Phrenology, Atavism, and criminal characteristics in families (Schmallenger, 2007). The primary causes include diet, general nature of being bad, hereditary, physical, and neurological deficiencies. This evidence, plus some like the psychodynamic models that posit that it is the unconscious psychological progressions that control the character of an individual from the moment he or she is born, underscore the argument that sociological factors solely lead to crime (Psychological Theories of Crime (Criminology Theories) IResearchNet, 2017).

How non-environmental factors can interact with one’s environment in ways that can lead to criminality. An example of a biological cause of crime is Richard Ramirez, the night stalker. When he was two, Ramirez was dealt a blow on his head from a falling drawer; he received 30 stitches and a period of unconsciousness (Hall, n.d). After three years he was hit again with a swing and was unconscious for some time. The following year, he started experiencing seizures and was diagnosed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy that was never treated. When he was an adult, Ramirez killed 13 people before his capture and death sentencing (Dietrich, Gorbet, Peterson & Pegler, 2012). Ramirez case is attributed to abnormalities of the brain that were caused by trauma after the hit and improper development due to the Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Such biological causes of crime should always be taken into consideration and properly addressed as they usually lead to even more violent criminal behaviors and activities.

There are various methods of curbing biological causes of crime as indicated by Dietrich et al. (2012). These include psychosurgery which is the surgery of the brain, chemical control through the use of drugs and other medications, other methods that are yet to be investigated include stimulation of the brain.

Psychological Factors

The psychological theories of crime hold that crime is caused by developmental issues in the early ages that lead to personality defects (VonFredrick, 2005). There are two main ideas that explain psychological theories of crime according to Akers and Sellers (2004). The two authors quote Sigmund Freud who popularized the Psychoanalytic theory which indicates that crime can be caused by an imbalance of the id, ego, or the superego. Both the personality defect and Psychoanalytical theories argue that an individual is never directly responsible for their criminal behavior, and rather, it is believed to be due to some non-conformity character traits that range from constant disagreements with others and maybe assaults (Akers & Sellers 2004).

Why it is important to consider psychological factors that impact crime. There are various psychological models related to criminal behaviors that range from early Freudian notion to social and cognitive models to psychodynamic and impulsiveness models. All the theories hold several assumptions that include: an individual is a major analysis of the theories; personality is the primary motivational component that directs a person’s behavior (Hall, n.d.). Social agreements define normality. Therefore, crimes arise from dysfunctional, abnormal, and inappropriate psychological processes that exist with the personality of an individual, nevertheless, in some situations, criminal behavior may be considered purposeful, especially, when it is carried out to satisfy the specific needs. Due to the fact that crime does arise from dysfunctional, abnormal, and inappropriate psychological processes that may result from a variety of causes that include a sick mind, inappropriate conditioning and learning, exposure to negative role models, and an individual’s inner conflicts, it is very important to consider such non-environmental features that impact crime since it is through this that effective ways of curbing criminal behavior can be designed.

How psychological factors can interact with one’s environment in ways that can lead to criminality. An example of a psychological criminal case was the BTK killer, Dennis Rader. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports that Rader was a normal person and had never indicated any signs of being violent and yet in his ‘normal appearing life’ had killed ten people (Akers & Sellers 2004). He had branded himself BTK meaning blind, torture kill and had drafted letter anonymously and sent to the authorities. Besides his criminal life, Rader went on with his career and also worked as a church deacon. His nature of impulsivity and aggression gave him a nice profile in the personality trait theory. Hence, the psychological factors like aggression and impulsivity of people, like those of Dennis Rader, are some of the things that might drive them to carry out criminal activities.

Conclusion

There are various theories that try to explain the cause of criminal behavior in an individual. Sociological theories mainly refer to the social norms and society exposure; psychological theories refer to the development of the mind and the defects that may arise during early years of individuals while the biological theories relate to the genetic changes and inheritances of the criminal traits. The psychological factors that usually influence criminal behaviors of a person are drawn from a wide range of psychological theories, from the early Freudian notion to social and cognitive models, the Eysenck behavior models, impulsiveness models, and to psychodynamic models-that posit that it is the unconscious psychological progressions that control the character of an individual from the moment he or she is born (Psychological Theories of Crime (Criminology Theories) IResearchNet, 2017). Hence, it should be noted that there exist some biological factors such as genetic defects, psychological factors, and abnormalities of the brain caused by trauma that may lead an individual to carry out criminal activities. This, therefore, cancels out the notion that crime can be fully explained with regards only to the social settings.

References

Agnew, R. (2007). Pressured into crime: An overview of general strain theory.

Akers, R. L., & Sellers, C. S. (2004).Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, and Application, 4th Edition. Los Angeles, Roxbury Publishing Company.

Dietrich, M., Gorbet, N., Peterson, T., & Pegler, H. (2012). Richard Ramirez: The Night Stalker. Retrieved from From:http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/serial%20killers/Ramirez,%20Richard%20_spring%202007_.pdf

Hall, E. (n.d.). A Biological, Psychological, and Sociological Examination of Crime Causation. Criminology & Justice. Retrieved from http://criminologyjust.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-biological-psychological-and.html#.WK4folWLTIU

Psychological Theories of Crime (Criminology Theories) IResearchNet. (2017). Criminal Justice. Retrieved 26 February 2017, from http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/criminology/theories/psychological-theories-of-crime/

Schmalleger, F., (2007). Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the 21st Century, 9th Edition. New Jersey. Pearson Education. Prentice Hall.

Siegel, L.J. (2010). Criminology: Theories, Patterns, and Typologies. 10th Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

VonFredrickson Rawlins, L.C.M. (2005). Theories of Crime Causation. Retrieved from http://www.vonfrederick.com/pubs/Theories%20of%20Crime%20Causation.pdf

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