THEORIES OF CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR, PSYCHOPATHS AND YOUNG OFFENDERS
Crime is defined as “a kind of human behavior that is deviant by certain established standards of
authority in society” (Radelet) Lay person has six primary explanations for criminal l behavior: defective
education, mental instability, temptation, excitement, alienation, and lack of proper parental guidance.
Theories of criminal behavior can be grouped into four categories: biological, psychological,
physiological and sociological.
Biological Theories of Criminal Behavior
Biological theories of crime centre on physiological, constitutional or genetic determinants of the
1. Somatotypes: Sheldon developed biological theory associating physical characteristics with
personality types.3 major body types endomorphs=extended stomachs, soft plump bodies-highly
sociable, content, relaxed; mesomorphs=hard, muscular, bony bodies-energetic, assertive, competitive,
powerful, confident; ectomorphs=tall, thin, fragile bodies-introverted, shy, intellectual.
This approach is now believed to be too simplistic to explain complexity of crime.
2. Central Nervous System: CNS produces behavior by creating muscular, skeletal and glandular
reactions. When neurons disturbed, damaged or drugged, the chemical process is upset and this may
result in memory loss, poor judgement, learning failures and under or over reaction to stress.
Researchers found abnormal psychological functioning of the CNS in approx. 50% of criminals versus 105
of individuals in general population.
3.Autonomic Nervous System: One of the functions of ANS is to mediate physiological processes
associated with emotion .Research shows prisoners suffering from antisocial personality
disorders(psychopaths)opposed to less psychopathic prisoners, exhibit less ANS responsiveness i.e.:
changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, muscle tension etc.
Read course reader 2.1 article: Hare- Psychopathy: A clinical construct
Hare emphasises asocial or anti- social behavior of criminal antisocial personalities is evident in
adolescence and continues throughout much of lifespan. Anti- social personality disorder is a behavior
pattern in which an individual shows a history of acts of violence toward others, unaccompanied by
Read Course text chp 11 “psychopaths” pp.288-307
PSYCHOPATHY is a key concept on test one
4. Sensation-Seeking Behavior: For some individuals involvement in criminal activities such as robbery
and assault may be engaged in as an exciting alternative to a life that is boring and monotonous. Zuckerman-individuals with high sensation seeking needs are highly extroverted, thrill-seeking,
impulsive, low in anxiety etc.
5. Genetics: popular but false theory-“bad seed theory of criminality”=individuals destined to be
criminals because of their heredity.
All behavior, including antisocial acts, is the product of interaction between heredity and environment.
5. The XXY Chromosome: suggested relationship between so-called XYY chromosomal syndrome and
criminality no longer is accepted. In 1965 investigators discovered that number of infamous murders
possessed an extra Y chromosome.it was argued that men with XYY chromosomes could not be held
responsible for antisocial behavior because they suffer from mental illness or compulsion to aggress.
This work has been discredited to show XYY is not restricted to criminals .Nevertheless no doubt that
men commit excessively more violent crimes than women.