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Biological theories

Psychological theories.

Major concepts and theories

Biological theories of crime asserted a linkage between certain biological conditions and an increased tendency to engage in criminal behaviour. In the 1890s great interest, as well as controversy, was generated by the biological theory of the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso , whose investigations of the skulls and facial features of criminals led him to the hypothesis that serious or persistent criminality was associated with atavism, or the reversion to a primitive stage of human development . In the mid-20th century, William Sheldon won considerable support for his theory that criminal behaviour was more common among muscular, athletic persons ( mesomorphs ) than among tall, thin persons ( ectomorphs ) or soft, rounded individuals ( endomorphs ). During the 1960s, significant debate arose over the possible association between criminal tendencies and chromosomal abnormalities—in particular, the idea that males with the XYY-trisomy (characterized by the presence of an extra Y chromosome) may be more prone to criminal behaviour than the general population.

Although the popularity of such earlier biological theories has waned , research has continued, yielding important findings. For example, studies have found general evidence for a connection between biology and criminality for both twins and adoptees . Twins are more likely to exhibit similar tendencies toward criminality if they are identical (monozygotic) than if they are fraternal (dizygotic). The fact that identical twins are more similar genetically than fraternal twins suggests the existence of genetic influences on criminal behaviour. Similarly, studies of adopted children have shown that the likelihood of criminality generally corresponds with that of their biological parents. The rate of criminality is higher among adopted children with one biological parent who is a criminal than it is among children who have one adoptive parent who is a criminal but whose biological parents are not criminals. The highest rates of criminality are found among children whose biological and adoptive parents are criminals.

Biochemical research in the 1980s and ’90s attempted to identify specific factors associated with an increased risk of engaging in criminal behaviour. For example, certain neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain (e.g., low levels of serotonin ), hormonal imbalances (e.g., higher levels of testosterone ), and slower reactions of the autonomic nervous system appear to be associated with increased criminality. These factors do not absolutely determine whether a person will commit a crime; indeed, most people with these factors do not commit crimes. Instead, the presence of these factors merely increases the chance that the person will engage in criminal behaviour. Because these various biological factors may be influenced by environmental conditions, however, the direction of causation is unclear.

Researchers have identified other biological factors associated with increased violence and aggressiveness, including alcohol intoxication , the use of some drugs (e.g., crack cocaine but not marijuana), diet, and the ingestion of toxic substances. Drinking alcohol has tended to increase criminality temporarily, and the long-term effects of ingesting lead (such as is found in lead-based paint) have generally been associated with long-term increases in criminality. Further, certain types of head injuries and complications during pregnancy or birth are correlated with long-term increases in the tendency of the child to commit crime. The direction of causation in these cases is clearer than with serotonin and testosterone but not entirely certain. For example, it could be the case that some other nonbiological intervening factor (e.g., poverty) causes the increased tendency to commit crime and also causes the increased tendency to experience complications during pregnancy and birth, to ingest lead and other toxins, and to abuse alcohol.

Sigmund Freud

Psychologists approach the task of explaining delinquent and criminal behaviour by focusing on an individual’s personality. In particular, they examine the processes by which behaviour and restraints on behaviour are learned. These processes often are conceived as being the result of the interaction of biological predispositions and social experiences.

Among the earliest psychological theories of crime were those based on the work of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). Freud argued that human nature includes a great reservoir of instinctual drives (the “ id ”) that demand gratification. These drives are restrained by moral and ethical codes (the “ superego ”) that children internalize as a result of their great love for and attachment to their parents. Adults develop a rational part of their personality (the “ ego ”) that mediates between the drives of the id and the restraints of the superego. Because the id is a relatively constant drive, criminality is assumed to result from the failure of the superego, a consequence of its incomplete development. However, the empirical evidence for this theory is thin.

Later psychological theories of crime were based on behaviour theory , such as that of the American psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904–90), who viewed all human behaviour—criminal and otherwise—as learned and thus manipulable by the use of reinforcement and punishment ( see behaviourism ). The social learning theory of Ronald Akers expanded behaviour theory to encompass ways in which behaviour is learned from contacts within the family and other intimate groups, from social contacts outside the family (particularly from peer groups), and from exposure to models of behaviour in the media, particularly television.

Beyond these broad psychological theories, it is sometimes argued that crime is associated with certain mental conditions. Mental illness is generally the cause of a relatively small proportion of crimes, but its perceived importance may be exaggerated by the seriousness of some of the crimes committed by persons with mental disorders. The closure of many American mental institutions in the 1960s and ’70s thrust many mentally ill people into the surrounding communities , where some of them later became troublesome. Because authorities had no other place to put them, there was a strong tendency for mentally ill people to end up in jails and prisons.

One particular personality configuration— antisocial personality disorder —is thought to be strongly associated with criminality. However, because the criteria for diagnosing the disorder emphasize committing crimes and engaging in crimelike behaviour, it is unclear whether the disorder is a cause of crime or simply a label that psychiatrists use to describe people who happen to be criminals. In the 1990s, psychological research was focused on early childhood experiences that tended to lead to criminality in later life, including poor parental child-rearing techniques, such as harsh or inconsistent discipline . Research also isolated impulsivity—the tendency to engage in high levels of activity, to be easily distracted, to act without thinking, and to seek immediate gratification—as a personality characteristic associated with criminality.

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Criminology as a Science: Essay

Within this essay I will be discussing whether criminology is a science and the reasons as to why some individuals’ opinions may differ. Criminology can be defined as the study of the creation of laws, laws being broken and with both of these factors in mind it also involves the reactions and behaviors caused by society. Criminology is not only linked to laws that have been broken and criminal behavior, it can also be linked to the variety of behaviors and different levels of sanctions which can also interest criminologists. There are three main parts which make up the study of criminology which are; the study of crime, those that commit the crime and the study of the criminal justice system/penal system. Science is knowledge which has been built up overtime which can be used in day-to-day life. It can mainly be used to experiment new topics and hypothesize on different aspects as well as being used to create evidence. Science helps us to understand both the natural and social world. Criminology and science may be combined as they often complement each other in a way, which can be beneficial when solving crimes, etc. (Newburn, T., 2007).

A principal reason in which some individuals may believe that criminology is a science is because there is use of scientific methodology. For example, observations, measurements and assessments are all used to access crime. They all use disciplines such as biology, sociology and psychology as part of this (Thomas J. Bernard). Another reason as to why criminology is a science is because all of the fields of criminology use some kind of research. Within science, research one of the main techniques in which information is gathered and it is both reliable and a useful source. Because criminologists require useful sources in order to become reliable shows that it is evident that science is needed within criminology. A theory which backs up the fact that science is used within criminology includes Lombroso’s theory. Lombroso mainly focused on the science of criminals. Such as believing that you can be born a criminal and this can be shown through physical features including large or small eyes and an expressive face. Another reason as to why criminology is a science is because science is very often used when solving and looking into crime scenes. For example, fingerprints are often taken in the majority of crime scenes to find and match, this is then put into a database. This technique would not be possible without the use of science and analytical data. As well as this, science must be applied when analyzing an individual’s DNA for example through DNA profiling. This is because DNA profiling plays a major role in criminology and has been proved to be a very effective way of solving or looking into crime scenes. As well as this, other forms of DNA can be found through forensic scientists playing their part and collecting samples using a range of scientific techniques.

criminology is a science essay

However, it is also said that criminology is not a science due to the fact that it is an umbrella term which means that groups of words are placed into only one category (Martin D. Schwartz, Walter S. DeKeseredy, 2014). Criminology is actually a study that uses a range of complimentary sciences including sociology, psychology and biology. Each of these complimentary sciences are useful in different ways and can be used to. For example, there are different theories which can be used within each complimentary science including Skinner’s theory within psychology. This theory is mainly linked to behaviors and how they are created. He found that looking at the causes of an action and their consequences is the best way to understand why all individuals have different behaviors (Saul McLeod, 2018). Another reason as to why criminology is not a science is because most things in science tend to be stable. This therefore means that the scientific rules tend to remain the same and stay reliable and predictable. However, criminology is not at all stable due to the fact that no one can actually predict the future of crime. As new types of crimes arise, society will change. Also, science is the same across different communities, cultures and countries however crime differs across the world due to the different levels of complexity (what is a crime in some countries may not be a crime in another). Another reason as to why criminology is not a science is because what we know as the legal systems and penal systems are not very scientific and they also tend to dispute the knowledge and statistics that we know about psychology.

In conclusion, there is more evidence to show that criminology is a science. This is because the majority of criminology involves the use of science due to the fact that in order to find evidence within a crime scene for example, scientific techniques are needed. Science is mostly based on evidence and this is key within criminology. Criminology uses scientific techniques including DNA profiling as well as scientific theories which can help to back up information. However, criminology is not a science in some ways due to the fact that it is linked to complementary sciences instead which includes psychology and biology. This therefore means that social science is used rather than pure science, there is a difference between the two. Science is stable whereas criminology is not which could also imply that criminology is not at all scientific. Overall, criminology is more of a science as there is more evidence and theories to support this.

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Criminology A Science Essays

Scientists, in fact, disagree on the proper definition of a science. Some object to the whole idea of social science; others question more specifically whether criminal justice can be a social science. According to Babbie & Maxfield (2011), Science is a method of inquiry – away of learning and knowing things around us. Merriam-Webster online dictionary (n.d), define science as the study of natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation. The publication of The Bell Curve (1994) by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray rekindled the current science wars. Having been heavily criticized by sociologist and criminologists on their IQ test, a series of lavish, well-funded and highly publicized conferences had mobilized a broad coalition of scientists, social scientist and other scholars in defense of science (Sardar, 2000). The most publicized and effective of these was ‘The Flight from Science and Reason’ conference, sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences, and held in New York during the summer of 1995. The conference declared that there was a real threat to science from sociologists, historians, philosophers and feminists who work in the field of ‘science and technology’ (STS). It attacked the social theories of science, declared feminist epistemology (theory of knowledge) a ‘dead horse’ and the criticism of science a ‘common nonsense.’ In a rejoinder, the Critical historians of science argue that the mythological belief in the purity of science died long after the end First World War- when experimental physical scientists become involved with industry and the military, for more scaled down, user-friendly science directed towards meeting human ends (Sardar, 2000 p.10). The WW1 exposed the technological weaknesses of the British Empire and led to direct government intervention in the management of science. The monopoly of universities as research institutions was broken as new institutions were established with public and private funding. To many intellectuals and scholars, particularly of Marxist persuasion, a relationship between science and economics become plainly evident. It led to the formation, in 1918, of the National Union of Scientific Workers (later Association of Scientific Workers) with a categorically socialist a gender for science. The connection between science and ideology was made explicit in 1931 when a conference on the history of science in London played host to a delegation from (then) Soviet Union. According to Sardar (2000), the key event at the conference was a paper by Boris Hessen on ‘The Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s -Principia- principals. Hessen argued that Newton’s major work was not so much a product of scientific genius or a result of the internal logic of science, but rather a consequence of social and economic forces in the seventeenth-century Britain – the findings fulfilled the needs of the British bourgeoisie. J.D. Bernal’s The Social Function of Science in 1939 saw science as a natural ally of socialism: its function was to serve the people and liberate them from capitalism. Bernal combined his Marxist humanitarianism with technocratic and reductionist motives. Despite all its problems, Bernal held on to his faith in science as an objective, natural mode of inquiry that could produce peace and plenty for all, were it not for the corruption of science under capitalism. It was in this Cold war atmosphere that Thomas Khun produced his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolution (1962). Dismayed by somewhat simplistic accounts philosophers gave of the history of science, Kuhn observed different periods of scientific investigations (knowledge acquisition). Period of ‘normal science’ tests hypothesis derived from theories shaped by the contents of the paradigm (dominant thought) in which they exist. The period is characterized by adherence to agreed assumptions and expected outcomes. During period of normal science anomalous or unexpected findings Show More

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