Biological Approaches


Biological Approaches


Biological Approaches

 Morphological

 Hereditary/Genetic

 Biochemical/neurophysiological

 Biosocial



 Mophological approaches assume that criminal behavior is inborn, associated with physical body features, and that criminals have body features which are different from non-criminals

 Lombroso (late 1800s)

 Criminal behavior is atavistic in origin-reversion to a more primitive type


Lombroso (continued)

 Believed external body features are associated with abnormalities of the brain which result in criminal behavior

 Genetic accidents resulted in less than fully evolved humans who had to live among more modern men. Their behavior was beyond their control

“Born criminals” vs. “Criminaloids”


Lombroso (continued)

 Lombroso lacked adequate control groups

 atavism does not exist in nature, there are no such genetic accidents


Sheldon’s morphological research

 Correlation between physique and personality

 Endomorph

 Ectormorph

 Mesomorph

 Some research finds criminals are more mesomorphic, slightly shorter and lighter--why?


Inheritance/genetic approach

 Genes may be an indirect cause of behavior by influencing structures and functions that guide behavior

 Methods

 General pedigree studies (family studies

 Twin studies

 Cross fostering


Family studies

 Jukes and the Kallikaks


Twin studies

 Identical twins vs. fraternal twins. vs. siblings vs. unrelated children raised together

 technique used to study intelligence, criminality, mental illness, alcoholism

 condordance rates: rate of agreement between pairs--if one has a trait does the other have it?


Adoption (cross-fostering)

 Adopted children have two sets of parents: biological, who supply the genes, and adoptive, who supply the environment

 Who determines whether the children become criminal?


Mednick’s study

In the table is the percentage of each group who was arrested




YES 24% 14%

NO 20% 13%



 In all instances a minority committed crimes. Other factors play a role.

 Biology played a role, in that children who had parents who committed crimes were more likely to commit crimes than children who had not. It appears to raise the probably, or risk, although in all likelihood other factors are more important


XYY studies

It was hypothesized that an extra “Y” chromosome would make a male more aggressive, a “supermale”

 Richard Speck

 Karyotype studies

 2% of prisoners

 .1% to .2% in general population


XYY (continued)

 Therefore there are a greater percentage in prison than in the general population

 Most are not in for violent crimes

Thus, not “super males”

 There may be sociological reasons

 The XYY defense has been unsuccessful in court in the U.S.



 Hormonal imbalances

Diet (the “twinkie” defense)

 Toxic substances such as lead (related to poverty)

 EEG abnormalities more common in prisoners than in general population

 More birth problems, head injuries



Antisocial personality

 autonomic nervous system underarousal, less “flight or fight” reaction

 need for stimulation

 less reaction to punishment

 poor performance in avoidance learning

 improved performance with adrenaline injection


Biosocial approach

 physiological tendencies toward criminality (such as being impulsive or aggressive) may be acquired in different ways

 The environment can act to encourage or discourage criminality through its interaction with the characteristics of the individual



 Behavior results from interaction of physiological and environmental factors

 People with certain factors will become criminals if exposed to certain environment

 People born into criminogenic environments won’t become criminals if they lack a physiological predisposition


Gender and crime

 Males are more likely to commit crimes

 All three crime measures agree

 UCR violent--M:F 9:1

 property M:F 4:1

 94% of U.S. prisoners are male

 Historical and cross cultural findings support this


Gender and crime

 Lombroso: masculinity hypothesis

 Chivalry: treated more leniently

 Males are more likely to be denied bail and to receive prison sentences rather than probation


Current thinking--2 perspectives

 Biological and sociocultural

 Biological perspective

 Males are more aggressive than females, and aggression and crime are related

 There might be a biological basis for differences in aggression


Biological perspective


 Gender differences in aggressiveness occur early in life, before sex-role stereotyping of self

 Among other primates, males display more aggressive behavior

 Differences in brain organization

 Males tend to be more aggressive, dominant, visual-spatial


Biological perspective

 Females tend to have better language skills

 Although there are differences, there is considerable overlap, so some females would commit crimes


Sociological perspective (gender)

 Women were discouraged from competition

Taught to be “ladylike”

 Supervised more closely

 Males and females are treated and socialized differently

 Feminists have speculated that as the role of women changed, more crime


Socialization & gender

 There has been some rise in female crime, the reasons are unclear

 Female criminals come from the lowest

SES, least likely to benefit from the changes that have occurred

 The rise might be due to the end of the chivalry hypothesis