In this paper I will briefly describe the evolutionary theory in general, and specifically as it relates to the study of criminology. I will examine the ways in which natural selection has shaped the processes which motivate human behavior, especially in terms of how competing for limited resources and ensuring that one's genetic code is passed on are linked to aggressive behavior. Two crimes of which I have personal knowledge will be evaluated, with emphasis placed on the ways in which evolutionary theory may account for the aspects of criminal behavior in each. Finally, I will reflect on the ways in which evolutionary theory may help further our understanding of the causes and predictors of criminal behavior and whether it should become a focus of a practitioner's efforts to help prevent crime and reduce recidivism on an individual and programmatic level.
Evolutionary theory is the study of the ways in which human behavior has been shaped over the history of the development of our species through the process of natural selection. Since human behavior includes criminal behavior, the study of evolutionary theory can he helpful in our understanding of the causes of crime. Evolutionary theory seeks to better understand and possibly predict today's criminal behavior by examining the history of humans as a species to determine the root source of aggressive and violent behavior.
Natural selection is the process by which certain naturally-occurring adaptations get passed on from generation to generation because they provide some advantage to survival and reproduction (reproductive success). Simply stated, if one of our ancestors has a genetic trait that makes him or her more likely to survive, mate, and reproduce in a harsh social and physical climate, this trait will be carried on to his or her children. While on the other hand, an individual lacking this trait will be less likely to reproduce and pass his or her traits on to the next generation. Over time, the gene traits that are favorable to survival and reproduction continue to pass from one generation to the next, to eventually be present in modern man. This is survival of the fittest, that the most genetically fit individuals are the ones who survive and pass their gene pool on to the next generation through sexual reproduction.
Evolution through natural selection is a slow process, however, and the environment can change much more quickly than the evolutionary process. This means that the adaptations which increased likelihood of survival and reproduction in our ancestral environment thousands of years ago do not necessarily help us to do so today. Neanderthal’s did not have access to supermarkets, match.com, or central heating. Modern man does have access to plentiful resources, but our brains have not had the time to catch up. In fact, these traits that once helped keep us alive as individuals and as a species can be harmful in our current environment, which is fundamentally different than the environment in which these drives were formed. In his seminal book, On Aggression (1966), Konrad Lorenz posited that aggressive behavior is inherited to help an individual to protect scarce resources, such as mates and food (Lorenz, 1966). Whereas aggression may have made it more likely that you would successfully compete for food and mates in our distant past, it now leads more often to what is considered antisocial and criminal behavior.
The two crimes that I will discuss today were carried out by offenders with whom I have worked directly, which provides me with some unique insight into the situations, backgrounds, and psychological mindsets of the actors involved. Last spring, Joe stabbed his girlfriend of 5 years multiple times in the face, chest, and neck. His girlfriend, Donna, sustained multiple life-threatening...