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Biological and Psychological Criminology Theories

Criminologists undertake different researches to study the events surrounding occurrence of criminality, crime, and victimization. Criminologists have identified various theories explaining causality. Some scholars attribute crime to environmental issues arguing that one's surrounding affects the manner in which individuals engage in their activities. According to this argument, if surrounding environment is familiar with crime, then individuals in such environment will have the likelihood of engaging in crime. Other scholars have based their argument on the decision-making process of an individual. The psychology of an individual defines the manner of his action. Understanding criminology theories is vital for execution of justice and for the development of policies to curb criminal activities. Failure of policies in executing justice results from partial or lacking understanding of criminology theories. The analysis presented in this paper describes the causes of crime in terms of both biological and psychological aspects. Therefore, this paper seeks to analyze biological and psychological theories of crime.

Biological Theory

Biological theory is based on biochemical, genetic, and neurological deficiencies. This was the first positivist theory about criminal behavior. Cesare Lombroso, Italian psychiatrist, concluded from his studies that a person is born criminal rather than becomes one. He made this conclusion after performing an autopsy, where he discovered abnormality in the skull of a dead man. Findings of Lombroso are more advanced in comparison to atavist theories. The findings of the study led to creation of the general theory, which admitted causative factors being psychological, societal, or biological in nature. Several links between crime and biology have been established by various scholars. These include biological markers and genetic links among other links (Rafter, 2008).


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There has been a general understanding that children resemble their parents. In this perspective, it is clear that genes have significant effect on behavior of persons. Criminal behavior can, therefore, be attributed to genetic makeup of human beings transferred from generation to generation through biological processes. Studies on identical twins are a clear proof that behaviors of individuals are genetically influenced. Identical twins always exhibit similar traits of character and behavior having been conceived due to fertilization of a single egg. Some studies involving identical twins have revealed the existence of relationship between criminal behavior and genetic composition. The study on criminal behavior was exclusively done on Danish twins.

Biological factors that have been linked to this theory have heritable traits. They can be transferred from one individual to another through a biological process. Neurological deficiencies affect normal behavior of an individual and thus may cause his/her inclination towards crime (Marsh & Melville, 2006). Various researches are done on a sample of the population and thus inductive judgments are made in regard to the observations.

Weaknesses of Biological Theories

Crime prevention mechanisms outlined in the theory are unsavory and often have undesired implications for the individual. The choice of prevention mechanism is at times to exterminate and sterilize the offenders. Sterilization was mainly used in America during the period of 1970s. These preventive mechanisms did not upheld and, what is more, violated human rights since they caused harm to the offender rather than corrected his behavior. The other problem with this theory is the use of generalization. Research methodologies that have been used by various scientists only involved a small portion of the population. Generalization is made in regard to the behavior of the whole population. Researchers fail to understand that the behavior observed by some individuals may not be the same in the whole population. Results yielded in these studies and concepts brought forward by these theories may not reflect the reality.

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Furthermore, most of the subjects of these researches are incarcerated at the time of the research. Incarcerated offenders cannot be used to generalize about the behavior of all offenders. Incarcerated criminal offenders do not necessarily demonstrate biological traits and cannot be used to make conclusions about the relationship between biology and crime. By using prisoners as the only subjects, it is difficult to understand whether the observed effect has any connection to the trait in question. Individual’s biology can only partially explain potential behavior but not realization. Many people have biological predisposition but do not engage in criminal activities. Taking into consideration the diversity of our society, there are various aspects that exist within the environment that  influence human's behavior. The relationship that exists between crime and biology is also influenced by the environment. Genetic inheritance does not determine a criminal, rather it influences the manner in which individuals interact with the environment.

Biological theories have no successful application in psychological theories. They fail to take into consideration what other theories have to say about causation of crime and developing preventive mechanisms. In this regard, biological theories use inhumane and cruel mechanisms in dealing with criminal behavior. These approaches seem to destroy rather than correct behavior of the individual.

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Strengths of Biological Theories

Researchers, including those supporting and those opposing biological theory, are in agreement that biology plays a certain role in determining person's inclination to crime. The argument is that genetic heredity influences the manner in which individuals relate with the environment. Contemporary criminologist cannot deny the influence that biology has on the perpetuation of crime. The view is that human behavior is determined by the relationship that exists between biology and environment. Genetics determines individual's predispositions or tendencies in which individuals behave. Biology, therefore, does not predetermine whether a person will be a criminal, but it influences the behavior of the individual in relation to the environment. The manner in which an individual responds to the environment may determine whether the resultant effect is criminal. Biological theory makes a contribution to determining the criminal behavior of an individual.

Given that biology impacts the behavior of a person, it is imperative that biological theory can be used in determining which corrective practices to adopt. Policy makers in criminology sector can make use of this theory in developing policies that will offer preventive mechanisms in relation to crime (Taylor, 2006). Some of the preventive mechanisms associated with this theory may have positive results. Rehabilitation mechanism, for instance, can be effectively used to correct behaviors of an individual.

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Psychological Theory

Criminal psychologists play an essential role in measures taken by justice systems. They create various tools that can be used in solving criminal injustices. This theory is different from the biological theory as it focuses on different corrective measures. Psychologists play a vital role in helping the police combat crime and ensure rehabilitation of offenders. They achieve this objective by assessing the condition of both the victim and the offender. This assessment provides adequate information regarding the measures taken for corrective purposes (Arrigo, 2004).

Psychological theories of crime portend that certain offenses may be influenced by conflicts and mental factors. These theories share some aspects with biological theories since both deal with causes on the individual level. However, psychological theory does not associate crimes with phenomena that are observable, such as brain abnormalities, like in the case with biological theories. Psychological theories associate criminal activities with factors such as personality, intelligence, or mental illness. Psychology is essential in the process of understanding criminal responsibility.

Psychological theory provides a general perspective that encompasses psychological functioning, adjustment, and development of an individual with the aim of explaining deviant or criminal acts. Under this approach, there exists an essential aspect in regard to mental issues. Psychoanalytic theorists believe that criminal behavior is caused by human disturbance. The latter may have resulted from conflict between ego, identity, and superego. Ideally, it may emanate from improper fixation in the emotional development stages. These causative effects contribute to inclination of a person to take part in criminal activities. Personality theorists, on the other hand, believe that criminal activities are caused by defects in personal traits or personality. Improper and defective traits contribute to improper conduct of individuals thus resulting in criminal activities.

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The criminal develops personality that is based on conflict, aggression, and impulsiveness. In this case, the criminal does not have any feeling of remorse, empathy, or guilt for their conduct. The individual in such circumstances cannot tell what is good and what is bad. Psychological theories have their main focus on human cognition and its development. These theories are concerned with the interrelation of human behavior. Nature of individual characteristics affects the likelihood of a person to get involved in criminal activity and may have dire effects of ruining the character of a person.

Psychological theories can be divided in three main categories. These include control theory, learning theory, and psychoanalytic theory. Most of these theories have significant influence on development of behavioral theories of crime related to criminology. There exist various schools of thought in regard to the issue of criminology. Classical and positivist theories explain the relationship between the individual and crime. According to the classical theory, individuals have the freedom of choice - their free will (Chisum & Turvey, 2007). Crime can be looked at from the perspective of choices that an individual makes between non-criminal behavior and criminal behavior when such opportunity arises. In the event when rewards emanating from the criminal act exceed retribution, there will be increased chances of criminal behavior.

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Causes of criminal behavior, according to the positivist theory, include factors beyond the realm of free will. One of these factors is psychological behavior. Psychological theories can be described as positivist since they discuss issues outside the control of an individual.

Psychoanalytic theory takes an indirect approach in the quest for explaining criminal behavior. This theory involves the use of a pathological process in which criminal acts may be manifested. Criminal behavior is attributed to inadequate superego formation. In this case, behavior depends on the balance created within the psychic energy system. Psychoanalytic theorists portend that the inability of individuals to postpone instant gratification in order to achieve greater gains influences criminal behavior. Sublimation has also been perceived as another causative agent of criminal behavior. Individuals always tend to engage in crime due to lack of satisfaction of their individual wishes. Therefore, individuals committing a crime have aspirations that their current capabilities cannot satisfy. As a result of  lack of immediate satisfaction, individuals tend to engage in criminal activities with the objective to achieve immediate satisfaction. This perspective tends to explain reactions based on emotional ties that an individual may have with another person or the parent. Learning theories of crime also affect the behavior of a person. The groups of people that an individual socializes with always influence the behavior of that individual. In this regard, peer pressure plays a huge role in the behavior of a person (Ellwanger, 2006).

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Strengths of Psychological Theories

Corrective measures adopted under the psychological criminology theory serve to correct the behavior of a person and trait of his/her personality. Solutions to problems of neurological damage caused by behaviors such alcohol consumption add weight to initiatives of public policy and policy responses. Corrective measures advocated by psychological theories ensure observance of law and thus enhance cohesiveness among individuals. Measures employed can effectively solve the problem of crime in the society. These corrective measures used with individuals will ensure that their personalities are improved. Measures proposed can help people to growth and can help create a society that is free from crime.

Psychological theory cannot in itself offer adequate explanation of the cause of criminal activity. There are criminal activities that cannot be attributed to psychological theory. However, psychological theory offers a better explanation of the causes of a certain crime. Therefore, the theory can be used in conjunction with other theories to offer a viable explanation of causes of criminal behavior. Information provided by this theory is essential and adds knowledge alongside complementing existing criminology theories in their quest to explain the causes of crime.

Policy makers and enforcement agencies make use of psychological theories in determining the cause of a crime and establishing policies to curb crime. Law enforcers and crime investigation agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, make use of psychological theory to determine the route of evil. This theory has been used extensively to investigate consciousness of individuals and determine whether an individual is guilty of crime or not. The theory, therefore, is widely applied in the justice sector as it helps to ensure that justice is upheld and appropriate corrective measures adopted to curb crime are taken.

Weaknesses of Psychological Theories

It is difficult to measure the accuracy of psychological theories due to the fact that it is extremely difficult to measure the ego of an individual. Testing of these theories, therefore, becomes almost impossible. On the other hand, testing of personality theories is also virtually impossible as tautological issues present various problems. Effectiveness of programs that provide counseling and therapy in the quest for reducing delinquency remains in doubt. These programs cannot provide effective corrective measures of the criminal activity. The role of psychology in the quest for achieving criminal justice is crucial. However, the effect of personality and psychological theories in relation to the impact on justice is not measurable.

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Psychoanalytic theories of criminology are not sufficient in explaining the cause of criminal activity, especially in a situation where criminal activity is well planned. Planned crimes require more explanations as compared to what this theory can provide. Planned criminal activities require the use of skills and knowledge to enhance execution. Where these aspects are absent, such crimes may not result to full realization. Psychological theories are not able to explain the execution of such crimes. Psychoanalytic theories concentrate more on factors that are unconscious as well as on the parent-child interactions. Crimes like hacking require adequate knowledge on operations of a computer as well as on the technical aspects of computers. Psychological theories cannot, therefore, offer adequate information as to the cause of such crimes. This indicates that psychology theories cannot be used exclusively in explaining the cause of a crime.

Theory fails to consider the explanations given by other theories of crime in regard to the causes of crime. Besides psychological aspects of an individual, there are other aspects that may induce an individual to commit a crime. Failure to consider all these aspects by psychological theories renders them incapable of giving a conclusive judgment regarding the causes of crime. A successful theory has to take into consideration all other theories that have been developed. This may help the development of a new theory that will either criticize the credibility of the existing theory or add new knowledge to already existing theories.

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Criminology theories try to explain various aspects that may lead to committing a crime. Psychological and biological theories are categorized as positivist theories in regard to their approach in offering explanation of the cause of a crime. The two theories explain causes of crime from the perspective of an individual composition. Biological theory focuses much on the genetic makeup of an individual and argues that criminal behavior is genetically transferred from the parent to the child. Genetic makeup of an individual is thus the cause of crime according to the biological theory.

Psychological theory, on the other hand, focuses on individual psychological characteristics and focuses more on the brain. Criminal behavior is influenced by what we perceive in the mind. Therefore, the mind stimulates an individual to commit a crime as per psychological theories.

These theories have various weaknesses and strengths as outlined above. This means that no theory can offer a viable explanation of the causes of crime. Policy makers, justice agencies, and law enforcers should indulge all criminology theories in the process of developing measures to curb crime. Proper use of these theories will ensure formulation of better policies and measures and consequently will help create a society that is free from crime.



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