Criminology

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Is a psychology of crime really possible?

For anyone to investigate as to why criminals commit offences; such as sexual assault, robbery or fraud a definition of crime must be established. Due to cultural, social and political differences a precise definition of crime has never universally been accepted. Psychologists must understand a definition of crime to investigate the motives behind an act of misconduct, which could therefore predict and prevent future criminal behaviour. However crime is complex and the different approaches within psychology attempt to outline factors of what the causes and effects of crimes are.

The main argument within psychology is the nature vs nurture debate, it is unknown whether criminals are victims of their own genetics or due to the physical and mental environmental effects that they have grown up with . Genes are often said to set the limits on behaviour, while environments determine development within those limits (Overton 1973). These debates are still crucial in society today, as not one specific gene has ever been associated with someone committing an offence. The likelihood that an individual would therefore commit a crime could be increased due to hundreds of genes. If these behaviours were caused due to a specific gene, foetuses could be genetically modified to prevent survival of the gene. However the environment that an individual has been socialised in is vital background information. In adolescents specific role models and peers are a key source of influence and equally crime is also perpetuated through film and television programmes. In addition the group, which an individual would associate himself or herself with, is crucial. An individual is more likely to engage in criminal behaviour if they associate themselves with a group that perceives crime as acceptable and the social ‘norm’ in comparison with a contentious group that believes it is unacceptable to commit a crime.

Encompassing much of psychology is the biological approach and it could be argued that it is the most relative theory in relation to the causes of crime. When assessing whether or not a particular trait in innate, research into twin and family studies is crucial in understanding as to why criminals commit serious offences. Genetic predisposition has a significant role in research, focusing on monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, Lange (1931) found 77% of MZ pairs were concordant in having convictions leading to imprisonment, compared with 12% of DZ. Mz twins have a higher concordance rates for crime than Dz and it can be concluded that crime has an heritable component. However these studies can be critically analysed, as monozygotic twins are more likely to be treated similar by their parents than non-identical same sex twins. So it could be argued that rearing conditions are a confound in studies. However most measures of intelligence, personality, interests and social attitudes, MZ twins reared apart are similar as those reared together (Bouchard et al., 1990). Family studies compare behaviours among relatives of the offenders and non-offenders. It can be argued that contribution in an act that is deemed, as a criminal offence is hereditary. In the Cambridge study, boys with a criminal father were twice as likely to become delinquent as those with noncriminal fathers (West, 1982). However family studies still do not clearly show any obvious differentiation between genetics and environmental influences.

Bandura did not deny the role of biological factors in the social learning theory. But suggested that there are three key influences on behaviour. Self- reinforcement involves a person repeating a specific behaviour due to the feeling they gained from it. Vicarious reinforcement is learning through the actions of other people, therefore imitating role models can lead to a child behaving in a similar way to their parents. This could have a negative affect on a child as observing a behaviour...
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