An Integrative Look at Criminal Behavior


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Notes on section 2.3 of my IB HL psychology textbook

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An Integrative Look at Criminal Behavior

  1. 1. An integrative look at criminal behavior On All Levels
  2. 2. Risk Factors • Origins of criminal behavior are complex • Result from a combination of risk factors – Biological and environmental factors • Risk factors interact and aggravate one another • The more risk factors present = higher likelihood of criminal behavior
  3. 3. Biological Level of Analysis
  4. 4. Biological Level of Analysis • Various biological factors can contribute to criminality • Factors such as: – Genetics – Brain abnormalities – Nuerochemical imbalances
  5. 5. Genetics • Christiansen (1977) studied 3586 sets of Danish twins • Found that there may be some genetic factors in criminal behavior…but concordance rates are very low • Other factors may play a more important role
  6. 6. Limitation of Twin Studies • Monozygotic twins are often treated more similarly than dizygotic twins are
  7. 7. Hutchins and Mednick Adoption Study • 32.6% of sons had a criminal record w/ both a a biological and adoptive father with criminal records • 21.4% if only his biological father had a criminal record • 11.5% if only adopted father had record • Shows importance of environmental factors in combination with genetic factors in determining behavior
  8. 8. Limitations of Adoption Studies • Children are often placed in an environment that is similar to their original environment • Some children adopted years after birth – No control of length of time with birth-family
  9. 9. Limitations of Genetic Arguments for Criminal Behavior • The term “criminal behavior” itself – Crimes can range from murder to jaywalking to tax evasion • A gene for “crime” probably doesn’t exist • Genetic theorists have a difficult time explaining why criminal behavior tends to change over a lifespan – Peak criminal behavior at age 20 – Decline after 30
  10. 10. The Brain • Looks at interrelationship between emotions and decision making • Emotions are controlled by the brain’s limbic system • Decision making takes place in frontal lobe
  11. 11. Blair et al. (1999) • Impairment of pathways between the amygdala and frontol lobe in the brain • Makes it difficult to moderate emotional reactions – Effects how the individual interacts with others • Never appropriately develops empathy or guilt • Acts more impulsively
  12. 12. Frontal Brain Hypothesis • Theory that a malfunctioning relationship between the frontal cortex and limbic system may cause criminal behavior • Brain damage may cause behavioral problems – Antisocial behavior • Hypothesis does not explain all criminal behavior
  13. 13. Neurotransmitters and Hormones • Explains the significant gender difference in crime • In 2004: – 90.1% of murderers were male – 82.1% of violent criminals were male • Low levels of serotonin have been linked to antisocial and impulsive behavior – Men generally have lower levels • Often higher testosterone levels = more aggressive criminals
  14. 14. Biological Factors • These factors alone are not enough to cause violence – With the exception of severe brain damage • These factors must be combined with cognitive and social factors as well
  15. 15. Cognitive Level of Analysis
  16. 16. Yochelson and Samenow (1976) • Criminal thinking has cognitive distortions (errors in thinking) – Blaming others for their own failures – Super-optimism (extremely unrealistic) – Unable to accept mistakes when proven wrong – Reducing/limiting significance of a behavior – Exaggerating accomplishments and abilities
  17. 17. Cornish and Clark (1987) • Rational Choice Theory: Criminal behavior is the outcome of a reasoned decision-making process • Assumes that criminals seek to benefit from the crimes they commit • If benefits > costs, they carry out the crime
  18. 18. Bennett and Wright (1984) • 3 factors affecting decision to commit crime: – Risk (chance of getting caught) – Financial reward – Ease of entry • Supports the theory that a clear decision- making process underlies criminal activity • Limitation: can’t ask successful burglars—only the ones who are caught!
  19. 19. Sociocultrual Level of Analysis
  20. 20. Sociocultural Level of Analysis • Considers how society and culture affects our behavior • Factors: – Social and cultural expectations – Economic and political realties that exist where we live
  21. 21. Poverty • Messner (1988): instead of focusing on differences in income, we need to look at structural poverty – Single-parent families, low levels of education, high infant mortality rates, low social mobility • Income levels alone does indicate crime
  22. 22. Unemployment • Correlation between rates of unemployment and rates of crime – Unemployment can damage self-esteem – Feels that life is meaningless – Change in status – Boredom/free time!
  23. 23. Social factors + Biological factors • Poverty brings higher stress on the mother of a developing child – Affects the fetus – Can impair brain function
  24. 24. Labels • Self-fulfilling prophecy: When we are given a label we often live up to that expectation • Jahoda (1954): Ashanti people feel day of the week a child is born on predicts temperament • Wednesdays are supposed to be aggressive and problematic; Mondays are calm and peaceful – High number of arrests for boys born Wednesday – Low number for Monday
  25. 25. Three Levels Combined • Biological factors may affect an individual’s thought process • Thought processes may affect his/her social development • Socio-economic status could have an effect on the health of an expectant mother, and thus the development of the child