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Biogenic Causes of Crime

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1 Biogenic Causes of Crime
Chapter 6

2 Positivist School of Thought
Actions are determined by sociological, biological, or psychological causes, not rational, free will choices – crime has an antecedent cause Whereas classical criminologists assumed no inherent difference between criminals and noncriminals, positivists assume those who commit crimes are somehow different from those who do not Positivism’s core is empiricism and determinism Knowledge can be discovered only by means of observation & experience; criminologists must use the scientific method to collect empirical facts to determine the factors that lead to criminal behavior Individual differences are rooted within factors beyond the control of individuals – their behavior is determined by something other than their free-willed choice Can justify intervention into offenders’ lives to “cure” them Controversial – how much, & what kind, of intervention is allowed?

3 Early Positivism: Biogenic
Pioneered by Cesare Lombroso, Italian rationalist, physician, & scientist who studied the connection between anatomy and psychiatry Influenced by Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution Moved away from the classical “rational man” idea into the positivist “fact- seeking” and “causality of behavior” ideas Considered the father of criminology Led to a shift in criminological thinking long-term Multiple-factor explanation of crime Scientific study rather than philosophical examinations of crime Detailed analysis of all data Biogenic theories fell out of favor after being associated with Nazi regime, racism, and medical abuses; simultaneously, Sutherland raised criminology to a respected subfield of sociology

4 Lombroso & “The Criminal Man”
Physical characteristics are predictive of criminal behavior and can distinguish criminals from non-criminals Some criminals possess atavistic (evolutionary throwback) features: skulls larger or smaller than the local average, prominent frontal sinuses & femoral muscles, large jaws & cheekbones, asymmetrical eyes & ears, “shifty” or “hard-looking” eyes, ears larger or smaller or sticking out more than the local average, flat noses among thieves, aquiline noses among murderers, fleshy lips among rapists & murderers, thin lips among swindlers Four types of criminal: Born criminals – atavistic Insane criminals – “idiots, imbeciles, paranoiacs, epileptics, alcoholics” Occasional criminals – innate traits predispose, but opportunity must be present for them to act Criminals of passion – propelled to crime by an “irresistible force” like anger, love, or honor


6 Lombroso & Ferrero and “The Female Offender”
Female offenders’ physical traits: Occipital irregularities, narrow foreheads, prominent cheekbones, “virile” faces Females had fewer degenerative features than men; prositutes had the most because they offended against “female decency” Female offenders lacked “maternal instincts” and “ladylike qualities” that they were supposed to have biologically, making them more vicious than male offenders

7 Post-Lombroso Bio-crime Research
Ferri – crime is explained by interactive effects of the physical, the individual, and the social; recommended socialist reforms to correct the problems that led to crime (later became fascist to prevent excessive individualism) Garofalo – society is a natural body, crimes are crimes against nature and reflect failures of pity (concern for others’ well-being) or probity (concern for others’ property); advocate of death penalty because he believed criminality a permanent state Goring – found that violent criminals had more strength, and burglars, thieves, and arsonists were shorter & thinner, though his improved statistical analyses found no other physiological differences between offenders and nonoffenders Goddard & Dugdale – studied genetics & crime via “pedigree studies” that looked for families with higher than average amounts of deviant behavior; fueled the eugenics movement

8 Problems with Early Biogenic Theories
Poor methods Generalized from small study groups Failed to consider more plausible explanations for differences they did find – confused causality & correlation Biological features are heavily influenced by environment: Poor diet, environmental toxins, poor parenting, and poverty Confused biological & behavioral features (e.g. tattoos) Fit facts to theories & worldview (e.g. women deviating from prescribed gender role; assumed behavior must be biological in nature) Statistical issues There is no physical characteristic that is associated with criminality – though there are some neurological features that appear more frequently with some kinds of criminals

9 Issues & Implications of Early Bio-crime Theories
Eugenics Sterilization Death penalty Bodily privacy & experimentation Racism Classism Lack of focus on environmental factors (biological antecedents) and social issues

10 Modern Biological Theories
Growing acceptance of biological factors, but it is difficult to overcome anti-biological ideological bias Most modern criminologists focusing on biological explanations are either biosocial or biopsychological = nature PLUS nurture Heritability coefficient – percent of variable determined by genetic structure Biological factors no longer seen as destiny, but only as risk factors E.g. heritability in psychological issues like conduct disorder and ADHD, which are linked with criminal behavior Difficulty with this perspective is its potential for abuse – danger of discriminating against people with biological risk factors, even if they do not commit crimes Genetic, prenatal, and environmental biological impact is all considered

11 Genetic factors Usually studied via twin or adoption research
Identical vs. fraternal; raised together or separated There appear to be some genetic components to crime: Adoptees with criminal biological parents are more likely to engage in criminal behavior despite having prosocial adoptive families Identical twins are more likely to share in deviant behavior than fraternal twins or other siblings Smoking and drinking behavior has a concordance rate of .70 for identical twins, .30 for fraternal, .27 for full siblings, and .07 for half siblings (Clevland et al, 2005) 72% of variance in conduct disorders can be explained by genetics (Jaffee et al, 2005) High levels of testosterone (a heritable trait) have been linked to aggression; lowers neurological sensitivity to environmental stimuli Also environmental – steroid “rage”


13 Environment and Biology
Nutrition – increased sugar intake can lead to hypoglycemia and exacerbation of ADHD symptoms, sometimes causing aggressive behavior Prenatal environmental toxin exposure Nicotine can decrease the serotonin level of a fetus; interactive effects of father absence (Gibson & Tibbetts, 2000) Lead increase of 1 microgram per deciliter of prenatal blood associated with a 7.8% increase in arrests; lead stifles synapse formation, reducing travel of neurotransmitters and lowers arousal of cerebral cortex (Wright et al, 2008) Environmental toxins One microgram increase in lead exposure from birth to age 6 associated with 5.2% increase in arrests (Wright et al , 2008) Heavy metals, manganese, toxic waste, and synthetic hormones all linked to behavioral changes including hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, and learning disabilities Toxins more likely in low-income areas

14 Neurotransmitters & Brain Arousal
Chemical messengers in the brain that allow neural cells to communicate with each other Four connected to crime: dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, GABA Low serotonin & dopamine or high norepinephrine: impulsive violent acts, depression, suicide Arousal theory: low arousal of the cerebral cortex can lead to risk- taking and thrill-seeking behavior Individuals with low EEG brain wave patterns are also at higher risk for ADHD, have a higher threshold for threats of pain, slower recovery to normal arousal levels, and low serotonin

15 Evolution

16 Evolutionary Theories
Cheater theory Some males have evolved alternative reproductive strategies either through environmental adaptation or inherited genetics, using force or deception to impregnate females; same predisposition leads these men to take advantage in other situations Conditional adaptation theory Antisocial behavior is a response to unstable or hostile environment; to ensure reproduction, early puberty and early sexual activity, a pattern also associated with antisocial behavior Evolutionary expropriative theory All humans have an equal genetic potential for criminal behavior; human are all programmed to acquire resources to ensure reproduction. When common strategies are inadequate or threatened, resources are expropriated, leading to victimization of others

17 Policy Implications: Issues
Big issues before we can even get to policy: problems with causation vs. correlation (e.g. IQ and crime); why do all children exposed to certain biological phenomena (e.g. lead) not act the same way? Must show that treatment is safe and effective, and addresses both environment AND biology. Depo-provera for sex offenders, only physiology Drugs vs. cognitive-behavioral treatment Tendency to stigmatize and science-orient what is essentially a social construction: the law and conflict in behavior – crime is not a biological concept Prediction of criminal behavior by genetics (“crime-prone” individuals) Crime as an unchangeable biological trait

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