Essay Sample Exploring Theories of Criminal Behavior

Published: 2022-04-20 11:50:54
Essay Sample Exploring Theories of Criminal Behavior
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories: Criminal law Behavior
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1733 words
15 min read

Crime is an act considered an offense and call for punishment by way of fine or imprisonment. On a similar note, behavior refers to the manner in which individual conduct themselves especially towards others. Behavior might be influenced by personality, genetics, social factors and the constitution. Criminal behavior is the commission of acts which in the social setting are regarded as misconduct since they violate norms and codes of conduct. All over the recent century, criminologists have attempted some research to understand criminal behavior. The underlying concept behind the study is the ideology that to understand criminal behavior it is crucial to understand what causes crime. These are factors such as what motivates individuals to commit a crime. Subsequently, criminologists have been involved in a long-term interaction with psychological, biological, economic and social aspects and their influence on criminal behavior. From the studies, criminologists have formulated theories to explain criminality. Historically, three comprehensive models of criminal behavior exist. These are biological, psychological and sociological models. However, it is quite difficult to categorize these three models as it is accepted that all the three aspects influence behavior. What's more is that psychological factors occur across the three domains since there it has subcategories as social psychology and biological psychology under it. With this context, this paper will objectively explore the theories of criminal behaviors.

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Biological Theories

Biological theories of criminality speculate on a connection between criminal behavior and some pathological factors definite to some individuals. The theories accept that some people criminals and are biologically different from non-criminals. The primary ideology here is that the criminals have psychological and physical inferiority which inhibits their ability to conform to rules. Consequently, this is the cause of their criminality.

Classical ideologies on criminality believed that crime is a characteristic of human nature. In the late 1800s, Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso would come to refute these assumptions. Rafter (2008) while quoting Lombroso's theory of born criminality declares that criminal behavior is inherited and offenders could be identified by their physical features. Lombroso bases his criminology theory on Darwin's evolution theory claiming that born criminals are a subspecies of homo sapiens and are evolutionary inferior. Lombroso's used scientific methods by collecting several autopsies on criminals. The most prominent one is the autopsy on a criminal called Villella. An examination of his skull revealed an irregularity only found in apes, rodents, and birds. From the discovery, Lombroso construed that there is a delinquent nature that reproduces in people the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity.

After the discovery, Lombroso conducted another study comparing the physical features of Italian soldiers and prisoners. His findings were that criminals depicted different characteristics from that of soldiers. Lombroso used the structure of the head and face, wrinkles on the skin, excessive cheekbone, long arms, monkey-like ears and large lips to recognize offenders (Horn, 2015). From the research, he stated that any male who portrays five or more of these features could be labeled a born criminal. Equally, females with three or more of the features are marked born criminal. From the experiment, Lombroso further believed that tattoos and other body markings or piercings are evidence of born criminal and their insensitivity to pain. Lombroso claims that criminals were noticeable since they seem not to belong to that time.

Following the roots of Lombroso, an American psychologist practicing in the 1900s, William Sheldon attempted to determine the connection between biology and criminal behavior. Sheldon emphasizes on environmental correlates of crime and employs Darwinian belief of survival for the fittest. His focus is mainly physique and after observing a variety of human builds, he developed a system of categorizing behavior patterns and conforming physical builds. Sheldon labeled his categories as somatotypes. He deduced that slim or put differently skinny people with lean muscles tend to portray a restrained, sensitive, non-assertive, quiet and fragile personality. Likewise, a fat person with large bone structure tends to be more calm, tolerant, peaceful, and outgoing. On the other hand, more muscular individuals will depict energetic, combative, confident, and aggressive characteristics. These categories are ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs respectively. Sheldon discovered that most of the criminals were mesomorphs since big and strong people were usually guilty of some violent crimes. Consequently, Sheldon concluded that Mesomorphs are prone to commit a crime or any unlawful acts (Maddan, Walker, & Miller, 2008). The theory is sensible since people with big physiques usually compete for power and wants dominance.

While biological theories based on physical traits, profiling on physique might be unreliable since some observations might not be accurate. However, the fact that the society notices some of these patterns, some level of acceptance has been bestowed to the biological theories of behavior patterns. Majority of society would concur that the observations and deduction made by Lombroso and Sheldon are factual. Meeting someone portraying these features would perhaps affirm the truth in the theories.

Psychological Theories

Most of the psychological theories that attempt to explain crime focus on how characters might interact with the social environment to produce criminal behavior. However, psychologist focus on mental processes and their impact inclinations to violence. The interest of psychologists is often the association between intelligence, learning, personality and violent behavior. Some psychological theories such as psychodynamic perspective and behavioral theory have explained criminal behavior.

The psychodynamic perspective significantly borrows from Sigmund Freud's theory of psychoanalysis. Andrew and Bonta (2014) state that proponents of psychodynamic perspective believe that an individual behavior including criminality is controlled by unconscious mental forces in a person's mind. These forces are grounded in mind since early childhood and have profound effects on adult behavior. Imperious to the theory are three structures that make up a person's personality. These are the id, ego, and superego. The id is the primitive part of the mental makeup present at birth and represents the unconscious biological drives for necessities such as sex and food. Most important is the fact that the id is concerned with immediate satisfaction or pleasures without minding others. Most often, offenders never show regard for others since it is instant gratification that drives them. The second element the ego is also present during early life, and it compensates for the demand of the id by guiding personality to keep them within the boundary of society. For example, a child will throw tantrums if they learn their wishes cannot be granted. The third element, superego develops as a person grows. The superego serves to guide between wrong and right. That's why it is assumed that adults can understand what is good or bad. Psychodynamic perspective suggests that a person will commit a crime when they have an underdeveloped superego (Day, 2009). As a result, psychoanalysts believe that criminal behavior is the result of failure to control the rudimentary id-based pleasure-seeking drives.

Likewise, cognitive theories have explained criminal behavior with the focus on how offenders see and perceive the environment around them. Relevant to this theory is the how individuals solve problems. Jean Piaget theorized that people intellectual development occurs in an orderly pattern. As Cohen (2012) puts it, from birth onwards, a person will continue to grow intellectually. Another pioneer of cognitive theory, Kohlberg, further explains the cognitive development process and emphasizes that there are three levels of social orientation (Bandura, 2014). Level 1, or the preconventional level focuses on obedience and punishment. Children from kindergarten to fifth grade fall in this stage, where individuals strive to abide by socially acceptable norms. Level 2 or conventional level is where moral reasoning is found in young adults and adults. Concurring with this is the understanding of roles one plays. Ultimately, level 3 or post-conventional level is where individuals are concerned with moral worth of societal rules and values. Criminal behavior will be predicted according to the level of cognitive development. Kohlberg believes that people depicting criminal act have not achieved significant cognitive development.

Sociological Theory

Sociological theories explain criminal behavior in terms of the social environment including home, workplace, school, peer groups and the society at large. Though their focus is the social environment, the theories are different from one another in several ways.

According to strain theory, some people will engage in crime as a result of a pressure that makes them upset and hence participates in misconduct as a means of escaping the stress. For example, an individual might choose to steal to reduce their financial problems, children might stop going to school to avoid being bullied, or someone might be violent to end bullying. The best and recent version of the strain theory is Agnew's general Strain theory. Agnew's theory draws inspiration from the earlier version of Strain theory and is significantly influenced by Robert Merton Strain theory. Agnew introduces other types of Strain that have never been mentioned earlier and simplifies the whole thing. According to Agnew, two general types of strains influence criminal behavior. One prevents individuals from accomplishing their goals whereas the other takes things that they value. While there are overall different goals, the focus here is related to money, respect, and autonomy. For example, money might be the main reason for criminal behavior since it is a necessity in achieving various goals. Likewise, the desire for respect or masculine status influences criminal behavior (Kaufman, Rebellon, Thaxton, & Agnew, 2008).

Another sociological theory of criminal behavior emphasizes that criminality is learned. Akers's, social learning theory maintains that all human behavior is learned and is the product of the interaction with the social environment. Aker's believe in the ideology that people are born without criminal nature. However, after their day to day interaction or experiences with the environment, individuals will learn to think or behave criminally (Akers & Jennings, 2015). One can assume that the experiences include observing the glorification of criminal behavior in the media as in the case of movies. Similarly, seeing friends or family members being rewarded with criminality or violent behavior leads to learning of such actions. Farrington (2011) in his research, for example, revealed that in a family with a history of criminality people will learn to model the criminal behavior of their brothers or sisters if they realize that it is rewarding or is glorified. Behavioral theories have proposed four factors that promote criminal behavior in individuals. A traumatic event or spur-like assault, a threat or challenge intensifies the arousal and provokes violent reprisal. Likewise, having learned aggressive techniques or skills after obser...

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