GPS3008 Psychology of Criminal Behavior
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What makes a criminal? A criminal is someone who is guilty of crimes that violate the laws of a country. No matter how peaceful and secure, every country is bound to have criminals and crime is inevitable. Why is this so? Why are there criminals all over the world? How do criminals come about? Debates over the origin of criminals have been ongoing for a long time and there is still no clear definite stand on either the nurture or the nature perspective. Some assume that criminal behaviors are due to environmental influences and life experiences, whereas some assume that criminal behaviors are influenced by an individual’s genetic makeup. In this essay, I will be focusing on how criminal behaviors can be caused by the different factors of ‘nature’ as well as the different factors of ‘nurture’, and then moving on to a summary whereby the decision of my stand is justified. Despite the fact that I personally believe that criminals can be influenced by both nature and nurture factors, my ultimate stand for this debate is that criminals are made, to a certain extent. Criminals & Nature/Biological
Many researchers suggest that criminal behaviors can be hereditary. As we know, individuals acquire genetics that are inherited from their ancestors and parents and these genetics encompass of personality traits. In 1964, Eysenck proposed a theory of criminal behavior with reference to his theory of personality that includes the three major components of personality – extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Extraversion refers to traits like active, assertive, or sensation seeking, and neuroticism refers to traits like anxious, emotional or low self-esteem, whereas psychoticism refers to traits like aggressive, antisocial, impulsive or tough-minded (Eysenck, 1964). According to Eysenck, criminals usually display higher levels in all of the three personality traits. His studies suggested that individuals high in extraversion tend to lose their temper easily and thus becoming aggressive (Bartol & Bartol, 2005). In addition, he believes that extraverts’ behavior can be elucidated by the ‘arousal theory’, whereby some individuals, which in this case are the extraverts, need a higher level of excitement and arousal. These people enjoy pranks, and find challenge in opportunities to engage in antisocial behavior. As a result of higher need of stimulation, they are more likely to encounter with laws, which eventually might lead to criminal behaviors. Besides extraversion, higher levels of neuroticism are also regarded as part of criminals’ personality traits. Individuals that are higher in neuroticism achieved an emotional level in a shorter time and then remained at that level for a longer period of time as compared to individuals that are lower in neuroticism (Eysenck & Gudjonsson, 1989). When an individual is at their emotional level, they tend to react more strongly and overlook the consequences of their actions, which increase the chances of criminal behaviors. Eysenck also proposed that individuals who score high in psychoticism are more likely to engage in criminal behaviors, as these people are aggressive, antisocial, impulsive, egocentric and lacking in empathy. By being egocentric and lack of empathy, an individual is less likely to spare a thought for others and thus the chance of inflicting harm to others is higher. Other traits like aggressive, antisocial and impulsive are of course directly related to criminal behaviors. In all, Eysenck’s theory of criminal personality is supported as studies shown that students who reported higher levels of delinquency also scored higher on extraversion, psychotic, and neuroticism traits (Rushton & Christjohn, 1981). However, other studies have also showed that in majority of cases, offender scored higher in neuroticism and psychoticism but not in extraversion (Farrrington et al., 1982; Hollin, 1989). Therefore, with these mixed results, a new study might be required to test out the criminal personality theory to ensure that this theory is still promising and useful. Genetics
As mentioned earlier on, every individual contains genes that were inherited from their ancestors or parents. The basic genetics of sex is that male has an X and a Y chromosome whereas female has two X chromosomes in the pair that determines sex. However, not all men are born with only one Y chromosome as some men are born with two Y chromosomes – XYY and not XY, which is known as Klinefelter’s syndrome (Howitt, 2011). As the Y chromosome is what that differentiate females and males, a male with two Y chromosome is presume to be extra-masculine, which can be associated as being more aggressive. Hence, according to this concept, there are a larger proportion of XYY men in places such as prison or hospital for offenders (Price et al., 1966).
Researches have shown that XYY men were rare in the general population but common in men involved in crime. However, these male XYY criminals were not necessary particularly involved in violent-crime. Instead, they were more involved in non-violent crime (Epps, 1995; Witkim et al., 1976). Nevertheless, the findings still suggest that genetics have a relationship with crimes, as XYY men are found more common in men involved in crime. Constitutional Factors
Besides personality and genetic factors, many researchers (e.g., Eysenck, Lombroso, Sheldon) have also argued that physical differences exist between criminals and non-criminals. Lombroso (1911) believed that criminals are atavists. As a matter of that, he proposed that there were certain characteristics that were supposed to be identifiable and these features were considered to look more primitive and ape-like. Some examples of the features include: small skulls, sloping foreheads, jutting brows, protruding ears, bad teeth or barrel chest (Schechter, 2003).
Besides physical features, Sheldon (1940, 1942) also argued that there is also a difference in body types between criminals and non-criminals. Among the three body types – endomorphs, ectomorphs, mesomorphs, findings suggested that delinquents compared with college students were very endomorphic and not ectomorphic (Sheldon, 1949). According to Sheldon, each body type corresponds to a certain type of personality. Individuals that are endomorphs are usually soft, round, sociable, and friendly. On the other hand, individuals that are ectomorphs are usually slender, sensitive, and assertive, whereas individuals that are mesomorphs are muscular, athletic, energetic, risk-taker and dominant. Sheldon also suggested that broad and muscular mesomorphs were more likely to be criminals due to their athletic build, and their risk-taker and dominant personality. His assumption was supported as study done by Glueck and Glueck (1956) showed that 60% of their samples of delinquents are mesomorphs and in another study done by Cortes and Gatti (1972), 57% of their samples of delinquents are mesomorphs whereas only 19% of their controls are mesomorphs. These studies provide evidences to support Sheldon’s assumption, and hence, there is indeed a difference in body type among criminals and non-criminals.
Crime & Nurture/Sociological
Social Process Theory
On the opposite of biological and nature causes, many researchers believe that criminal behaviors can be due to society and environmental factors. Social process theorists presume that the interactions people have with organizations or institutions, and the process of society can influence criminality (Siegel, 2005). One of the main approaches to social process theory is the social learning theory. Social learning theory basically refers to an individual can learn a certain behavior just by observing others and this process is known as ‘modelling’ (Bandura, 1973, 1983). With relations to criminality, an individual can learn to be aggressive or violent just by observing others acting violently. On top of that, individuals are more likely to learn criminal behaviors by becoming part of close groups or cliques whom offending has become a norm for them. Hence, many offenders committed crimes because of the company they hang out with. As they observe their peers or friends engaging in criminal behaviors to achieve their goals, they eventually learnt these behaviors as appropriate.
Another approach to the social process theory is the social control theory proposed by Hirschi (1969), whereby an individual’s behavior is conditioned through the close association of institutions and other individuals. According to this theory, criminal behaviors can be caused by failure to form or maintain a close bond with the society, which consist of attachment, commitment, involvement and belief. Attachment refers to a linkage between an individual and the society. If the attachment is weak, an individual is assumed to be unconcerned about others and thus inclined to deviate from social expectations. As a result, there would be higher chances of engaging in criminal behaviors. Commitment refers to an individual’s investment in social activities and institution. Individuals who have little investment in the society usually have little to lose (e.g., career path), as compared to those who have heavy investment in society. Therefore, one with little investment is more likely to deviate as they have little to lose. The third element, involvement, refers to social bonding. According to Hirschi, one with high involvement (e.g., employment) has lesser time and opportunity to engage in deviant activities such as drug abuse or illegal activities. On the other hand, an unemployed individual may spend more time loitering, which increase the opportunity of deviant activities and will be more enticed easily. Lastly, belief refers to an individual’s level of belief in the moral validity of shared social values and norms. Hirschi assumed that individuals with strong belief in these norms are then less likely to deviate from them. Likewise, individuals with weak belief in social values and norms usually ignore the legal rules and norm and thus, deviating from the social norms and engage in criminal behaviors.
The third approach to social process theory is the social reaction theory, which can be known as the labeling theory. This theory proposed that if an individual is already viewed as a criminal from young, it is more likely that this person will see becoming a criminal as fulfilling a prophecy, which eventually result in his criminal career (Siegel, 2005). Social Disorganization Theory
Besides the processes and interactions of a society, the environment and social circle can also aid to crime. Social disorganization theory suggests that urban conditions can have a huge impact in causing crimes (Shaw & McKay, 1942). A disorganized society is when institutions of social control such as family or schools have broken down. In such society, there are usually high unemployment and school dropout rates, low-income levels, poor housing and many single parent households. Under such situations, residents usually experience conflict and despair and this will ultimately give rise to antisocial behaviors. Many residents might engage in criminal behaviors (e.g., theft, robbery) in order to achieve their goals in obtaining daily necessities. Social Conflict Theory
Social conflict theorists believe that people, groups, or institution has the power and ability to influence, manipulate and control over others (Farrington & Chertok, 1993). In other words, there are always individuals or groups of different social classes (e.g., upper class, middle class, lower class) in a society and the wealthier and more powerful groups use their power in order to exploit groups with less power. These people with powers get to define what deviance is in society and hence, they are less likely to define their own behaviors as deviant.
Due to the fact that the people in lower class have less power, they are usually lacking in resources. With the continuous exploitation from the upper class people, they have no choice but to engage in criminal behaviors (e.g., theft, robbery) in order to obtain their resources. Hence, the gap between the rich and the poor can be a huge factor in precipitating crimes. Summary
After much researching on both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ view of arguments and theories, I believe that the reason behind criminal behaviors is very vast and complex. From the ‘nature’ perspective, we can see that one’s genetics, personality traits, body type or physical appearance can determine one’s tendency to engage in criminal behaviors. As from the ‘nurture’ perspective, it is clear that the society and environment factors play a huge influencing factor in precipitating crime. Personally, I feel that both sides of the argument have valid and important points, and I would not say that either of them is completely wrong. Nevertheless, my stand to this debate is that I believe criminals are made by the social and environmental factors to a certain extent, instead of born genetically. From what we know, criminal comes in any appearance and size nowadays and this shows that the constitutional factor theory might not be reliable to a high extent. However, the biological view still proves that one’s genetics and personality trait can indeed influence an individual in the chances of offending. On the other hand, all of the social theories prove that the environmental and society play a major influencing factor in precipitating criminal behaviors. In conclusion, I feel that the ‘nurture’ views of the argument are more influential and it definitely plays a larger role in determining one’s involvement in criminal behaviors. Even if an individual is born with ‘criminal personality or appearance’, he/she might not necessary highly likely to be involved with criminal activities if he/she was born in an ideal environment with a bunch of good company and parenting. Therefore, I strongly believe that the environmental factors and society plays a larger role than biological and genetic factors in influencing criminal behaviors.
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