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Biological Theories of Crime
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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. William Sheldon Sheldon believed that people could be classified into 3 body shapes, which correspond with 3 different personality types. 1. endomorphic (fat and soft) tend to be sociable and relaxed. 2. ectomorphic (thin and fragile) are introverted and restrained 3. mesomorphic (muscular and hard) tend to be aggressive and adventurous.
  • 7. Sheldon, using a correlational study, found that many convicts were mesomorphic, and they were least likely to be ectomorphic (Sheldon et al 1949).
  • 8. 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?
  • 9. Biological Parent with Criminal Record Adoptive Parent with Criminal Record % of sons with criminal record (Mednick 1987) % of sons with criminal record (Bohman, 1995) No No 13.5 3 Yes No 20.0 12 No Yes 14.7 7 Yes Yes 24.5 40
  • 10. Modern Biological Theories Biochemical (diet, hypoglycemia, hormones, environmental exposure) Neurophysiological (brain dysfunction) Genetic Predispositions – Alcoholism, Suicide, Mental illness
  • 11. 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.