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Chapter 3-4

SOC2700 Chapter 3-4: Biological and Psycological Explanations of Crime

Course Code
SOC 2700
Scott Brandon

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Chapter 3 "Biological Factors and Criminal Behaviour" pg's 37-55
Major argument = Theories argue that certain biological characteristics increase the probability that
individuals will engage in violent/antisocial behaviours legally defined as criminal
Physical appearance and defectiveness:
Criminals were thought to be different, abnormal, defective and therefore inferior biologically
Therefore consequential physical characteristics could potentially predict criminality
Physiognomy: study of the face / Phrenology: study of the external shape of the skull
Phrenologists: external shape of skull determined shape of brain and that different parts of the brain
could be attributed to different faculties/functions of the mind
Lombroso, "Born Criminal" & Positivist Criminology:
Extended physiognomy and phrenology by studying all anatomical features of the human body
Relied on Darwin's theory of evolution: criminals were throwbacks of earlier evolutionary stages
Preformed autopsies and comparison studies on living criminals and non-criminals
Argued for 3 major classes of criminals:
1. "Born Criminals":
i. Thought to constitute of 1/3 of all offenders
ii. Lower more primitive evolutionary form of development
2. "Insane Criminals":
i. Group containing idiots, imbeciles, paranoiacs, melancholia sufferers and those affected with
general paralysis, dementia, alcoholism, epilepsy or hysteria
ii. Relatively rare
3. "Criminaloids":
i. No special physical or mental characteristics but whose mental and emotional makeup were
such that under certain circumstances they would engage in criminal behaviour
ii. Majority of all criminals
iii. Based on the concept of multiple-factor causation
Some factors are biological, some psychological and others social
Basic approach became known as Positivist Criminology
Later thinking involved more social and environmental factor consideration rather than solely biological
and psychological factors
Goring's refutation of the "Born Criminal":
Lombroso had asserted that criminals, when compared to the general population would show anomalies
(ex. Physical defects) but in comparing prisoners with the officers and men of the Royal Engineers,
Goring found no such anomalies
Other conclusion: no difference between different kinds of criminals, differences related to selective
effects of environmental factors
Body type theories:
Argument: high degree of correspondence between physical appearance of the body and the
temperament of the mind
William Sheldon's basic type characteristics of physique and temperament:
1. Endomorphic:
tendency to put on fat
Soft roundness through various regions of the
Short tapering limbs
Small bones
Soft, smooth skin
2. Mesomorphic:
Relative predominance of muscles, bone and
motor organs
Large human
3. Ectomorphic:
Lean, fragile, delicate body
Small, delicate bones
1. Viscerotonic:
General relaxation of the
Comfortable person
2. Somotonic:
Active, dynamic
Behaves aggressively
3. Cerebrotonic:
Allergies, skin troubles
Sensitive to noise and
Does not like crowds
Body type theories have been criticized on several grounds
Text J20 "Biological & Psychological Explanations of
February 4, 2014 6:46 PM
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Family studies:
Idea that familial heredity influences behaviour
Serious problems with these ideas because to accurately report any findings, it would be necessary to
measure all environmental factors
Environmental factors could be the real reason a family (all living in these same factors) commits
crime - not inherited characteristics
Twin studies:
Differences in behaviour of fraternal twins can be explained by differences in heredity - differences in
identical twins cannot
Greater similarity of behaviour in identical twins, in comparison to that of fraternal twins is a
measure of the influence of heredity on behaviour
Counter theory argument: "criminal concordance" result of "behavioural contagion" an approach
that emphasizes similar environments of the twins make their behaviour socially related - not similar
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow for the transmission of electrical impulses within the brain
As such they underlie all types of behaviour, including antisocial behaviour
Potentially associated with antisocial behaviour: Serotonin / Dopamine / Norepinephrine
Meta-analysis showed that on average antisocial people have lower levels of serotonin than normal
Monoamine oxidase (MAO): enzyme that metabolizes neurotransmitters in the brain
Exceedingly low or high levels may influence behaviour
Low MAO results in significantly higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine = may cause low
self-control and heightened aggression
Neurotransmitter levels can also be affected by changes in environment and drugs
Ex. Stressful living conditions (urban city life) / changes in diet
Argument: Hormone levels influence human behaviour
Specifically Testosterone & female premenstrual cycles
Testosterone: significant role in human aggressive and violent behaviour
Counter argument: several possible causal paths between testosterone and aggressive behaviour
Testosterone levels can cause increased aggression / Aggressive behaviour may cause increased
testosterone production
Social variables may intervene in between testosterone levels and antisocial behaviour
Ex. High testosterone may result in person being poorly integrated into social networks, then
reduced social integration may cause higher levels of crime and deviance
Central nervous system (CNS):
Contains neurons and systems that exist in brain and spinal cord
Cerebral cortex consisting of two hemispheres is divided into four lobes:
1. Frontal - involved with goal-directed behaviour, impulses and emotions
2. Temporal - involved with goal-directed behaviour, impulses and emotions
3. Parietal
4. Occipital
Brain imaging procedures: been able to detect structural/functional abnormalities in both frontal and
temporal lobes
Frontal dysfunction may characterize violent offenders / temporal dysfunction may characterize
sexual offending
Autonomic nervous system (ANS):
Controls many of the body's involuntary functions (ex. Blood pressure, heart & intestinal activity, hormone
"Fight-or-flight": especially active, maximizes efficiency by increasing heart rate, rerouting blood from
stomach to muscles, dilating pupils, increasing respiratory rate, stimulating sweat glands
Primary socializing agent (for children): conditioned to anticipate punishment in certain types of
Anxiety felt (usually called conscience or guilt) often leads them to avoid such situations
Anxiety reaction in anticipation of punishment essentially ANS & "F-or-F" related
Therefore level of socialization in children may depend in part on the functioning of that system
When fear is reduced quickly, individual receives large reinforcement for avoiding punishment and
conditioning is more likely to occur
Environmentally induced biological components of behaviour:
Factors include drug/alcohol abuse/diet/toxin intake/head injury/complications of pregnancy & delivery
Drug/alcohol consumption habits may socially lead to criminal behaviour due to the substances or due to
maintaining the ability to meet the habit's demands
Alcohol is known to increase aggressive behaviour temporarily in lower doses
Every factor can be shown to possibly increase/influence antisocial and violent behaviour but they
generally must be combined with social factors and pre-existing traits in the individual
Conclusion of chapter:
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