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Biological Theories of Crime

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  • 1. Physiological Theories of Crime and Deviance. The criminal is biologically different from others – deviance is innate. NATURE V’S NURTURE
  • 2. Demonology
    • Crime caused by demonic activity
    • Offender to be purged of evil presence
  • 3. Phrenology - Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828)
  • 4. Cesere Lombroso (1835–1909)
    • Lombroso (1876) argued that the criminal is a separate species, a species that is between modern and primitive humans. He argued that the physical shape of the head and face determined the "born criminal".
    • Compared Italian prisoners to soldiers.
  • 5. Large jaw High cheekbones Flattened or upturned nose Handle-shaped ears Large chin Hawk-like noses or fleshy lips Hard shifty eyes Scanty beard or baldness Insensitivity to pain, long arms.
  • 6.  
  • 7. William Sheldon
    • Sheldon believed that people could be classified into 3 body shapes, which correspond with 3 different personality types.
    • endomorphic (fat and soft) tend to be sociable and relaxed.
    • ectomorphic (thin and fragile) are introverted and restrained
    • mesomorphic (muscular and hard) tend to be aggressive and adventurous.
  • 8.
    • Sheldon, using a correlational study, found that many convicts were mesomorphic, and they were least likely to be ectomorphic (Sheldon et al 1949).
  • 9. Adoption Studies
    • Mednick et al (1987) - court convictions, found 14,000 adoptees amongst them.
    • Criminal records of biological and adoptive parents were then investigated.
    • Many adoptees had criminal biological parents (strong relationship for sons and fathers).
    • Where there was an improvement in social conditions there was a reduction in crime (going against the genetic explanation).
    • Do criminals inherit bad genes?
  • 10. 40 24.5 Yes Yes 7 14.7 Yes No 12 20.0 No Yes 3 13.5 No No % of sons with criminal record (Bohman, 1995) % of sons with criminal record (Mednick 1987) Adoptive Parent with Criminal Record Biological Parent with Criminal Record
  • 11. Modern Biological Theories
    • Biochemical (diet, hypoglycemia, hormones, environmental exposure)
    • Neurophysiological (brain dysfunction)
    • Genetic Predispositions – Alcoholism, Suicide, Mental illness
  • 12. What are the merits of these theories?
    • May explain the relationship between gender and crime.
    • Lack of Free Will?
    • ‘ Sick’ behaviour rather than ‘bad’.
    • Most actions defined as deviant are carried out by people who are physically normal.
    • Biological approach doesn’t explain why crime is more likely to occur in western, urban areas.