2.04.2013

A Biological, Psychological, and Sociological Examination of Crime Causation


By Elizabeth Hall

Introduction
The science of Criminology is a relatively new field of science according to Siegel (2010), even though codes written on crime have been around since the time of Hammurabi who is credited with the first criminal law code written.  The first era that reasons for crime began to be discussed was during 
Cesare Beccaria (1738 - 1794) was one of the g...
Cesare Beccaria (1738 - 1794) was one of the greatest writers of the Italian Age of Enlightenment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
the Middle Ages, when people believed that those who could not conform to the normal thinking of their society were labeled as witches or possessed by satanic entities.  The beginnings of actual criminology are noted with the Classical school of thought, with Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria, who theorized that crime is a product of rational choice and can be controlled with deterrence methods.  Since that time criminologists have expanded on, compounded, or developed new ideas of why people commit crime, including theories that point the finger to biological, psychological, and sociological causes for crime which we will examine in this essay (Siegel, 2010). 
Biological Theories
Schmalleger (2007) reports that the basic tenet of the biological theories in criminology holds that crime is caused by a genetic or physical defect, and treatment is only effective in the reduction of aggression.  These theories are introduced by Cesare Lombroso, Rafaelle Garafalo, Franz Joseph Gall, and Enrico Ferri to name a few of the founders of this school of thought.  The main theories in this group include the earlier ideas of Phrenology, Atavism, criminal behavior in families, and Somatotypes, and go on to later theories such as Biosocial Arousal theory, Behavioral Genetics, and Autonomic Nervous System to name a few.  Causes range from diet to physical and neurological defects or just being “born bad”. 
English: Statue of Sigmund Freud See 1106143. ...
English: Statue of Sigmund Freud See 1106143. Freud's psychological theories are hotly disputed today - see http://www.psychologistworld.com/psychologists/freud_1.php and http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/article713089.ece. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One case that could be attributed to biological causes is that of the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez.  As a child of two, Ramirez received a blow to the head caused by a dresser falling on him notes Dietrich, Gorbet, Peterson, and Pegler (n.d.), of the Radford University Psychology Department, and received 30 stitches for the experience after a brief period of unconsciousness.  They go on to say that three years later he was hit with a swing, also on the head rendering him unconscious again.  The following year at six he developed seizures, and received a diagnosis of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy which was left untreated.  Later in life he went on to kill thirteen people before capture and subsequent death penalty sentencing (Dietrich, Gorbet, Peterson, & Pegler, n.d.). 
VonFredrick Rawlins (2005) holds that the psychological theories view of crime causation is that developments during the formative years of personality defects are the reason that criminals commit crime.  Akers and Sellers (2004) goes into more detail where there are two main ideas in this group, either crime is caused by an imbalance of the id, superego, and ego as noted by the Psychoanalytic theory popularized by Sigmund Freud and the theories based on personality defects which clai
m that crime is caused by improper development during the early years.  In all theories in this group, the criminal is not responsible directly for their behavior, rather it is blamed on non conforming personality traits which include aggression, impulse, and discord.  This is often hard to measure, and these theories have had little impact on recidivism or deterring criminal actions (Akers & Sellers, 2004). 
Dennis Rader
Dennis Rader (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A case that could be attributed to this group of theories is Dennis Rader, the BTK killer.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (n.d.) reports that Mr. Rader while maintaining a normal appearing life killed ten victims.  He also, gave himself the moniker of BTK which stands for Bind, Torture, and Kill, and sent sixteen letters to the authorities.  Besides these activities BTK also went to work every day while representing the church as a deacon.  The aggression and impulsivity of his crimes give him a nice fit for personality theory. 
Sociological Theories
Sociological theories suggest that one’s place in society denotes whether a person will commit a crime according to Siegel (2010).  They blame lack of equal opportunities, neighborhood disarray, and the social environment for crime causation.  The theories associated with this idea are; Strain Theory, Cultural Deviance, Social Learning and Control, and Labeling theories.  Abadinsky (2009) notes that gang violence and organized crime can be associated with these theories.  Criminals such as the famous “Teflon Don”, John Gotti would fit as well into this category (Abadinsky, 2009).
Conclusion
Criminologists study crime for a living and guide policy makers in the revision of policy and laws for our country.  Within this field, there are three types of ideas of why crime is caused, biological, psychological, or sociological reasons.  Among the types there are many sub-theories, and these form the basis of reasons for criminal activity.   Most types of criminals and criminal activity can be placed in one of these groups, however as our society advances so do the theories so what is a reason one day, may be completely or partially disqualified based on new evidence or findings of what works and doesn’t work to reduce recidivism, which is one of the main functions of the field. 






References:
Abadinsky, H. (2009).  Organized crime (9th Ed.).  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning
ISBN: 0-495-59966-2
Akers, R.L. & Sellers, C.S., (2004).  Criminological Theories: Introduction,Evaluation, and Application, 4th Edition.  Los Angeles, Roxbury Publishing Company.  ISBN:1-931719-85-3
Dietrich, M., Gorbet, N., & Peterson, T. & Pegler, H.,(n.d.). Richard Ramirez: The Night Stalker.  Retrieved From: http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/serial%20killers/Ramirez,%20Richard%20_spring%202007_.pdf
Federal Bureau of Investigation.  (2005). Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators.  Retrieved from:   http://www.fbi.gov/publications/serial_murder.pdf
Rawlins VonFredrickson, L.C.M., Dr., (2005).  Theories of Crime Causation. Retrieved From: http://www.vonfrederick.com/pubs/Theories%20of%20Crime%20Causation.pdf
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.  Tenth Edition.  Belmont:    
             Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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