Psychological Theories Of Crime Essays

Example of a Argumentative essay on Law about:

criminology / crime / behavior / biological theories / psychological theories

Essay Topic:

The psychological and biological theories of crime as related to criminology.

Essay Questions:

What are the peculiarities of the psychological and biological theories of crime? What is the essence of the biological theory of crime? What are the psychological characteristics of a potential criminal?

Thesis Statement:

The rich socio-historical experience of the humanity in the past gives an additional opportunity for adequate understanding of modern criminology and the problems solved by the given branch of knowledge.


Psychological and biological theories of crime in criminology essay


Table of content:

o Introduction

o Peculiarities of criminology

o Biological theories in criminology

o Psychological theories in criminology

o Conclusion

1. Introduction

Criminology is not an old science; nevertheless it is possible to say that the steps of its creation started long before its official definition as a science. The necessity of this science is especially high nowadays when, the level of crime has risen immensely in every corner of the planet. The attempt to explain the human behavior has already become a priority for many scientists all over the world. The rich socio-historical experience of the humanity in the past gives an additional opportunity for adequate understanding of modern criminology and the problems solved by the given branch of knowledge. Criminology had several factors that especially influenced its development. These factors provide a lot of back up information for a better understanding of criminology and its possibilities.


2. Peculiarities of criminology

Criminology is a socially-legal interdisciplinary science and an integral part of legislation. As it has been already mentioned, the beginning of the existence of criminology as a separate science started in the middle of the XIX century. Its start is strongly associated with the works of a famous criminologist Cesar Lombroso. Criminology as a science has a list of primary problems that it is to solve. The first one to mention is the analytical problem which lies in the detailed researched of the phenomenon of criminality, its general condition and the categorization of all the existing criminal manifestations. So therefore criminology provides a correct “picture” of the present criminal situation in any given geographical location. Other problems include the prognosis of the potential criminal situation, the prevention of criminality and the determination of the causes and the consequences of crime. One of the most important criminological issues of the new era is the designation of the crime determinants. So basically criminology has four main priorities to study: criminality, the personality of criminals, the reasons and the conditions under which criminality takes place and the possible methods of prevention. There have been many attempts to understand the true causes of crime. These attempts are especially revealed through the existing theories in criminology. Nevertheless, the biological and the psychological theories are the ones most spread and their contradiction constantly results in numerous arguments between the supporters of both of the theories. In order to make any concrete conclusions on any of these theories it is necessary to analyze them and their contribution in criminology.


3. Biological theories in criminology

The biological theories primarily study the physical constitution and endocrinology. They are a bright example of the theories that has not really got any practical support. The misunderstanding of these theories has caused a stereotype that if a person is a criminal then he was born as a criminal and any steps taken in order to change or to influence them are useless. Biological theories are only a part and one the interpretation of criminality but not the only. In the present time there is no assertive evidence of the fact, that the physical constitution and other biological factors cause criminality.

Nevertheless, these theories have a right to exist and there was a lot of important information that was used in terms of the development of criminology as a science.

The most vivid example of the biological determinism is the theory of Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso based his theory on the assumption that criminals have certain physiognomic features or abnormalities. Lombroso wanted to be able to detect future criminals in order to isolate them from the society. This gave criminology a strong push to create new methods of dealing with criminals and prevent crimes. Lombroso implied that prisoners had common facial characteristics. If to exaggerate criminals in Lombroso’s theory can be identified through the shape of their skulls, asymmetry of the face and head, large cheekbones, ears and lips, long arms and a twisted nose. Lombroso’s theory is the oldest one and it can without a doubt be called the main background data for the whole process of the development of criminology. Lombroso stated that men are more inclined to commit crimes due to the conservatism and the narrow-mindedness of their interests. According to Lombroso women have less social contacts and this is what predetermines their conservatism. This theory of female deviance seems to be very discriminating and not a present-day issue. The evaluation of a person as a “born criminal” basing on his facial features is at least not ethical and rather primitive. Lombroso considered this “born criminals” to be the “atavisms” of the society.

All the biological theories are based on the notion that biological markers foreordain criminal behavior. The core of all these theories is that genetic factors or any abnormalities which are inherited or acquired throughout the life, predispose individuals to the criminal behavior. Lombroso’s theory gave life to probably almost every single biological theory that appeared afterward.

Among the biological theories the XYY syndrome occupies a special place, as it analyzes why males are more often subjects to become criminals due to the presence if an extra Y chromosome. As this syndrome is in the first place associated with the low IQ-level of such males which seems to be a much better explanation. IQ shortage causes the inability to adjust in the contemporary social world that requires constant activity and flexibility. People facing these difficulties are left with no other choice that to turn to criminality. It all starts with low performance at school which results in the awareness of the “irretrievable dissimilitude” from others which later on results in deviance. Also such diseases as Organic Brain Syndrome, ADD or hormonal changes according to the biological theories play a very important role in the inclination to any criminal activities.

Another famous biological theory is the theory of William Sheldon. He based his research and inferences on Kretschmer's constitutional personality. For instance, Sheldon pointed out three main body types which are to explain the potential bent to criminal activity: endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph. Endomorph is a type hat is fat and therefore is primarily concerned with consumption. Mesomorph is defined through skinny intelligent introverts and ectomorph characterizes large dynamic people. Sheldon claimed that disproportionately mesomorphic people are more often subjects to criminal behavior than any other body type. In spite of the variety of biological theories nowadays it is clear that there is no possibility to consider that any person can be a “born criminal”, because it is very hard to underestimate the social factors and all the psychological issues connected with them. Lombroso’s theory was a good start for criminology but this point of view needed to transform into something new and not one-sided.


4. Psychological theories in criminology

The main idea of the psychological theories is that potential criminal behavior is the result of stable psychological trait of a person. These personality characteristics are he ones to push people towards committing crimes and demonstrating deviant behavior. The psychological theories emphasize the meaning of extraversion, neuroticism, psychotisism and may others of the conduct of a man. According to the psychological theories the disposition to crime is the result of inadequate socialization. They consider the social factor to be one of the most important ones in terms of inclination to deviance.

Among the numerous psychological theories it is important to point out Sigmund Freud’s and Erik Erikson’s psychodynamic theories, Skinner’s operant conditioning, Albert Bandura’s social-learning theory and the theory of moral development based on Kohlberg’s and Piaget’s stages of development.

Freud touched the problem of possible personality imbalance based on the functioning of Id, Ego and Superego resulting in the repression which can later proceed into criminal behavior. Erikson made an emphasis on the child development. He was particularly solicitous about the problem of identity diffusion which resulted in excessively self-conscious people who are overly concerned with sexuality. Erikson pointed out the problem of unfulfilled expectations which form a negative identity. In its turn this negative identity when possessed by a person make him want to show it out and he most common way to do it is to rebel against everything. The rebel against social norms is a bright example of how negative identity can result in criminal behavior. This theory performs a perfect base of how deviance can be stopped at early age.

The next major theory to mention is Skinner’s operant conditioning theory which is founded on the standard scheme of stimulus > reaction. According to Skinner the reward-based actions can form the desired behavior of a person and therefore also provide important information in terms of the prevention of criminality.

Bandura in his psychological social learning or also known as the social learning theory states: “Learning would be exceedingly laborious…if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do… from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action” [Bandura, 22]. Bandura claimed that modeling plays the most important role in the behavior formation.

Kohlberg’s theory of moral development is based on the thoughts revealed in the works of Jean Piaget. According to Kohlberg every individual passed six stages throughout his development as a personality. Each of the stages belongs to a definite level, so Kohlberg marked out three levels: pre-conventional level, conventional level and the post-conventional level. Each of the three levels has is own social orientation. The diapason of the social orientations varies from obedience and punishment, and ends up with principled conscience. If something is missed along the way principled conscience is never achieved and therefore the adult person does not understand what “social mutuality and a genuine interest in the welfare of others” means [7]. Kohlberg indicates that the only way out of the situation of “immaturity” is to face the required social dilemmas at each of the six stages.

All these theories mentioned above require socialization and without it no morality can be achieved by any means. No morality is a guarantee of the future anti-social criminal behaviour. The psychological theories in criminology in he modern times are the major hope to cope with the ever-lasting problem of crime prevention. Psychology has given these theories and supported them various widely known experiments. This makes the contribution of the psychological theories to the criminology as a discipline immense and irreplaceable. These psychological theories give an opportunity for the future adults spend their lives decently and definitely not in jail.


6. Conclusion

Contemporary theories are a combination of both biological and social factors, as one cannot go without the other. Every individual socializes and the social factor should be given the proper attention it deserves. The best theory or approach towards the possible explanation of the causes of crime and the personality of the criminals lies in the union of the most well-grounded parts of each of the theories. It is evident from our essay that both of the groups of theories have made a significant contribution into the development of the criminology as a discipline, because the biological theories represent the foundation for all the following theories which nowadays create the basics of the modern criminology. It cannot under any condition be said that one or another theory is more or less important because they have been developed separately all the time; and this was the major problem of criminology.

At the present moment criminology has gathered aspects from different theories in order to analyze, explain, predict and prevent deviant conduct. Criminology has come to the point where the contribution of both of the groups of theories is vital due to the fact that they all work for one purpose – to eliminate crime in the society and create a better world for the future generations. It goes without saying that the scientifically significance of the biological theories has lost credit; nevertheless these theories should not be forgotten. If people do not know their pas they will not ever know heir future. The same works for the theories. Only owing to their contribution into his science, criminology has become as professional as it has never been before.


1. Bandura, A. “Social Learning Theory”/General Learning Press/1977.

2. Gina Lombroso-Ferrero (1911) Criminal Man, According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso/ Putnam/1972.

3. Miller, N. & Dollard, J. “Social Learning and Imitation/ Yale University Press/1941.

4. Ronald L. Akers & Christine S. Sellers “Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, and Application”/Universiy of Florids Press/2004.

5. Biological and Psychological Theories of Deviance

6. Kohlberg’s theory of moral development

7. Bandura, A. “Principles of behavior modification”/ New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston/1969.

8. Flavell, J. H. “The developmental psychology of Jean Piaget”/ Van Nostrand Reinhold/ 1963.

9. Markle, S. ”Good Frames and Bad”/Wiley/1969.

10. Skinner, B.F.” Beyond freedom and dignity” /Knopf/1971.

11. Gallagher, J.M. & Reid, D.K.”The learning theory of Piaget and Inhelder”/ Brooks& Cole/1981.

12. Vold, G. B. & Bernard, T. J. “Theoretical Criminology”/ Oxford/1986.

13. Gottfredson, M. & Hirschi, T. “A general theory of crime” /Stanford University Press/1990.


There are many theories that provide an explanation of criminal behavior. According to some theories, delinquent behavior is innate in an individual. Other theories say that crime is influenced by environmental, economic, and psychological aspects (University of North Texas, nd). Biological Theories According to the biological theories, criminals have

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a different physiological makeup from non-criminals. Their biological inferiority is what pushes them to resort to criminal activities.

There had been multiple studies that attempts to find out if criminality is hereditary through analysis of family trees, identical and fraternal twins, statistics, and adopted children. However, these approaches have proved futile because they cannot distinguish hereditary from environmental influences (University of North Texas, nd). Contemporary researches, on the other hand, has discovered a wide array of biological factors that have direct or indirect connection with criminal or delinquent activities.

Among them are lack of chemicals, minerals, and vitamins in the food they eat, sugar and carbohydrates-rich food, and hypoglycemia. Exposure to radiation, dysfunctions in the brain, and swallowing of food dyes and lead also play an important role in criminal behaviors. Likewise, criminal acts have something to do with hormonal abnormalities, particularly those that are connected with testosterone (the male sex hormone) and progesterone and estrogen (the sex hormones related to female). By injecting estrogen to male sex offenders would minimize their sexual drives(University of North Texas, nd).

In addition, biological theorists likewise believe that the interplay of biological, environmental and social conditions can have an effect on criminal behavior. The genetic makeup of the criminal gives them a predisposition to act in a certain manner. The environmental and social conditions determines the actual behavior as well as the definition of that act(University of North Texas, nd). Psychological Theories The belief that criminal behavior is caused by low intelligence gained ground in the United States.

In order to prove this view, a study was conducted in 1931 and reached a zero correlation between the intelligence of an individual and criminal behavior(University of North Texas, nd). According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, criminal behaviors

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are associated with psychopaths or those who have internal problems that have been unresolved. Psychopaths are people who are rules by senseless guilt, subjective conscience, and no do not know how to distinguish right from wrong. In general, they find it hard to establish relationships with other people and do not know how to be emphatic(University of North Texas, nd).

Sociological Theories

According to sociologists, how people behave is determined by the social group as well as the social structure. The conditions of their society may cause them to commit crimes and delinquency(University of North Texas, nd).

Sub-cultural Theory of Delinquency

In the 1920s, the Chicago School, composed of sociologists, attempted to discover the connection between the crime rate of a community and its characteristics. According to this theory, social disorganization can take place in a neighborhood where the rate of delinquency is high.

Social disorganization takes place when:

1) there is absence of delinquency control;

2) the criminal behavior is most of the time with the consent of parents as well as the community;

3) the opportunity for delinquency presents itself; 4) there is minimal encouragement, training, or possibility for legal employment(University of North Texas, nd).

Anomie Theory

This theory was proposed by Robert Merton in 1938. Anomie explains the major difference between the cultural objectives and social structure of the United States. People experience strain as a result of their limited access to legal means of achieving wealth.

In order to cope up with this inadequacy, people accumulate wealth through illegal methods as well as through conformity. Other forms of adaptation, according to the anomie theory, include ritualism, wherein the individual does not pursue the wealth actively, and rebellion, where the individual does not accept both the goal of the wealth as well as the legal means of obtaining it(University of North Texas, nd).

Differential Association

This theory, introduced by Edwin Sutherland, is one of the major beliefs that explains the causes of criminal behavior.

According to Sutherland, criminal behavior takes place because the delinquent individual has been exposed to criminal elements and isolated from anti-criminal patterns(University of North Texas, nd).

Social Learning Theory

According to the principles of learning theory, the best way to approach criminality is to implement policies that would effectively punish criminals. Sadly, this is not being implemented in the United States. At present, the delinquent individual is usually not incarcerated and returned to the same community where they have been exposed to criminal behavior.

Likewise, the method of punishment lacks consistency and is not immediately implemented. Alternative or prosocial behaviors is not rewarded with positive reinforcement(University of North Texas, nd).

Social Control Theory

The social control theory does not attempt to uncover the reasons why criminal behavior is committed but rather focuses on why people conform and accept these behaviors(University of North Texas, nd). Travis Hirschi, in his 1969 book Causes of Delinquency, provides a comprehensive presentation of contemporary social control theory.

In his book, Hirschi concluded that delinquent behavior is likely unless the offender is exposed in a society that is characterized by attachment to other people, commitment to traditional means of action, involvement in usual activities, and concurrence to moral order and law(University of North Texas, nd). Moreover, Hirschi explained that the leading cause of delinquency is ineffective child rearing, which results to individuals with low self-control(University of North Texas, nd).

Labeling Theory

This theory places emphasis on the criminalization process itself as the reason for some crimes.

The criminalization process refers to the definition of criminals and delinquent behavior. According to the labeling theory, the first time a person commits a delinquent act and gets punished by the criminal system, they are already viewed as a criminal and it eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy(University of North Texas, nd).

Conflict Theory

This theory delves on the struggle between rich and poor, management and employees, majority and minority group. According to the conflict theory, society involves conflicts between rival interest groups and that the law and justice system functions in order to control subordinate groups.

Crime results from the lack of power(University of North Texas, nd).

Radical/Marxist Theory

According to this theory, capitalism demands competition of people in order to gain material wealth. Because of the uneven distribution of wealth, people have taken advantage of people who are less powerful than them as they accumulate wealth(University of North Texas, nd). According to the radical theory, criminal behavior is caused by what Marx calls class struggle (University of North Texas, nd).

Real Life Cases of Criminal Behavior For a period of two years, FBI Special Agent Robert Hazelwood and Janet Warren from the University of Virginia’s Institute of Psychiatry and Law conducted interviews of 41 men who were convicted for the rape of 837 victims. Based on the interviews, 55-61% of the criminals committed premeditated rape during the first, middle, and final act. 15 – 22% of the criminals said that their acts were results of their impulse while 22 – 24% said that the opportunity to rape presented itself(Hazelwood & Warren, 1990).

According to Janet Warren from the University of Virginia, there are methods of sexual attacks on women. The first one is called the ‘con’ approach. In this method, the rapist openly talks to their victims and asks if they can do anything to help them. As soon as the victim is within their control, that is the time they perpetrate their evil plans. This was the case used by one of the interviewed rapists named John, who was responsible for raping 20 victims(Hazelwood & Warren, 1990). The second method used by rapist is the ‘blitz.

Here the rapist physically assaults their victims by using chemicals or gases. Most of the times, however, they use their strength to overpower the woman. This was the case of 28 year-old Phil, who raped one of his victims in a vehicle(Hazelwood & Warren, 1990). Finally, the third method is the ‘surprise. ’ In this approach, the rapist pre-selects their would-be victim. The physical assault is perpetrated by the offender waiting for the woman. Weapons, such as guns or knives, as well as threats are involved in the surprise approach. 24-year old Sam chooses his victims by observing her patterns.

He was able to rape 20 victims before he was caught(Hazelwood & Warren, 1990).


There are many theories that explain the reasons why people resort to criminal behaviors. The causes of criminality may be psychological, social, or biological.


Explaining Crime. University of North Texas. Retrieved July 21 2008 from http://www. unt. edu/cjus/Course_Pages/CJUS_2100/2100chapter3. ppt

Hazelwood, R. , & Warren, J(February 1990). The Criminal Behavior of the Serial Rapist. Holysmoke. Org. Retrieved July 21 2008 from http://www. holysmoke. org/fem/fem0126. htm

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