Biological and Psychological theories of crime
It is proposed that criminals physically appear different from normal people
Biological and Psychological theories of crime: historical context
Middle ages (14002s-1600s)
• Demonic perspective: The Salem witches incident. Some girls were proposed to be
possessed. The 3 women who were thought to be in charge of these possessions were
executed. Even after they were executed, girls were still acting strange in the
community. There was a witch hunt that followed this, where 2000 people were accused
of being witches. 22 people were executed in this situation.
Enlightenment and post-enlightenment (1700s-1900s)
• Phrenology (1800-1850)
o Refers to the early 19 century system of greeting character from the skull; it was
thought the skull was able to tell whether a person was a criminal or not. People
were able to study the skull instead of a brain to determine whether people were
criminals or not. Bumps or hollows along the skull were thought to be abnormal;
therefore criminal. If there was bump over the ear, they would be known as a
serious offender. There influence began to dwindle in the 1830s.
• Lombroso-Theory of Atavism (1876)
o He was interested in the skulls of citizens and other physical features on the
body that can testify someone’s criminality. In 1870, enormous jaws, strong
canine teeth, large ears, large lips, twisted lips, wrinkles, extra finger or toes, high
cheekbones, insensitivity to pain, tattooing, love of orgies, etc. were
characteristics thought to link to criminality. Criminals were born according to him,
not innate. According to him, he thought people who shared these characteristics
were thought to be from a previous time. They were thought to be inherited.
Criminality according to him is inherited. Born criminals had some sort of
stigmata that potentially allowed people to see their criminality. The limits of his
theory: 1) failed to prove evidence of the physical qualities of a criminal 2) many
of the criminals he used were actually not criminals, they were soldiers, the
features of criminals appeared to him as southern Italians because that’s where
the soldiers were from. His finding are actually social and racial prejudices.
• Sheldon-Criminal Physique (1949)
o He was concerned with the body shape. Criminals possessed 3 different types of
bodies. Endomorph- soft & round, relaxed, sociable. 2) Mesomorphs, muscular & strong, energetic, courageous. 3) Ectomorphs, thin and fragile, brainy, artistic.
Mesomorphs are more linked to criminal behaviour.
Human problems were viewed as scientific problems.
Positivism refers to a form of scientific inquiry which argues social relations and inventions
including crimes can be studied scientifically which include criminality.
Genetics: criminality lies in genetic makeup. The XYY chromosome theory: the extra Y
chromosome in the XY chromosome was thought to create a super male, who is also more
Biochemical: Hormones- high levels of testosterone are thought to increase criminality. It’s
thought this is why men are more criminal than women.
Case study: about a psychopath- In the late 1800s, psychopath the term was coined.
1930s-1950s: men not acting manly and woman not acting womanly was referred to as
The Psychopath Checklist Revised (PCLR)
The traits from this test were to be ranked from 0-2. The cut off for psychopathy is 30. The test
is out of 40
Brains are scanned while they are visually watching violence or picture of violence. There is
more brain activity in psychopaths than normal people.
Research suggests that psychopaths are different from us,