Basing Theories Of Crime On The Individual

Characteristics Of Offenders Is Like Blaming Sick People For Their Diseases Essay, Research Paper

Many theories have been developed which address the issue of whether people are born criminals in terms of their physical, genetic, or psychological profile, Or whether as sociologists would argue criminals are made by the environment and circumstances which they encounter during their life.

There have been theories put forward to suggest that a persons physical characteristics can determine how he/she behaves. The earliest theories were in the eighteenth century, Lavater study on physiognomy this suggests that you can tell persons character by their facial characteristics. Some of these finding still exist in modern day prejudices / old wives tales i.e. he s got shifty eyes. Or his eyes are too close together

Later the study of phrenology also looked at the development of people s heads. Gall, did an extensive study of the brain and how the brain worked. He developed the theory that the lumps on the skull were where in some people certain areas of the brain were disproportionate and this caused the lumps. His study identified 26 functions of the brain and those relevant to criminology were destructiveness, secretiveness, acquisitiveness and combativeness.

Lombroso an Italian doctor, while examining the skull of a criminal had the thought that the nature of criminology lay in atavism (an evolutionary throwback.)

He felt the physical characteristics such as enormous jaw, high cheekbones, and protruding ears supported his theory as these characteristics were found in criminals, savages and apes. Lombroso later developed this theory further and produced a list of physical characteristics found in criminals.

The list included physical features such as; asymmetry of the face, irregularity in the eyes, ears. Nose, lips, teeth or chin, supernumary nipples, fingers and toes, and excessive arm length.

Lombroso then tested his theory on a number of convicted criminals and found that 21% had one anomaly and 43% had five or more this he suggested showed that criminals were born criminals. He did other test with soldiers and criminals and again the criminals had more anomalies.

Lombroso published his theories in his book The Criminal Man . He later developed his theories further by including the insane criminal, the epileptic criminal and the occasional criminal who could be influenced by environmental factors.

These early theories were not properly evaluated or objectively compared to wider groups in society but these theories formed the basis for future theories in criminology.

Others were critical of Lombroso and one of these was an English doctor Charles Goring. He went on to do his own research as a way of challenging Lombroso s theories. Goring own research found that criminals were shorter and lighter than others were and he therefore suggested they were of lower intelligence. There was criticism of Goring work as in his eagerness to disprove Lombroso he may have overlooked fact, which could have proved Lombroso s theory.

Again this was a wider study and looked at more factors but it failed to be objective as it set out to disprove a theory rather than evaluate and look for alternative explanations.

Hooton then tested Goring s theory and researched a large number of prisoners with a much smaller number of non-criminals. He selected people for the research based on their physical characteristics. He found that some feature were found more commonly in criminals than in others these were; low foreheads, sloping shoulders, thin lips and tattoos.

He also went on to suggest that certain physical types committed different types of crimes. Those smaller in character he said would steal while those with stockier build would commit more violent crimes. Hooton also believed that criminals with unusual physical characteristics were also likely to be mentally inferior.

It would be important to compare a wider non-offending group with similar characteristics. By only comparing one group or a limited mixed group you are more likely to confirm your initial thoughts. The impact of societies response to these physical differences would also need to be considered in terms of its impact on the criminal.

In 1921 Kretschmer, a Psychiatrist looked a body types and mental illness he identified three body types and suggested that different types of criminal behaviour was associated with the body shapes. Sheldon developed the theory of body types and linked body shapes to personalities. These body types are still used to describe body shapes and personalities today. These are:

1) Endomorphs this describes people whose bodies are soft round figures that are relaxed and extrovert personalities.

2) Mesomorphs have more athletic builds and are more aggressive in their personality.

3) Ectomorphs are physically thin and frail and are more introverted in their personality.

Sheldon carried out research involving two hundred delinquents and two hundred students who had no known record of delinquency. Through this work he found that there were more mesomorphs in the delinquent group than in the student group.

The Gluecks did a further study taking into account more factors including social factors and the child rearing techniques and the type of discipline, which the groups received as children. From this study the Gluecks they discovered that 60% of the delinquents were mesomorph types where only 31% of the non-delinquent group were mesomorphs.

However the Gluecks took their sample of delinquents from institutions and there is no account taken of institutionalisation on offending behaviour. Or how body types can affect parent s reactions/ bonding to their children.

Cortes and Gatti also conducted research into body types but they used a wider selection of delinquent and non-delinquents and they also found a higher number of mesomorphs in the delinquent groups.

Physical type theory may be accurate in identifying groups of body shapes and the links with types of personalities but this cannot account for criminal activity alone or all people with this body type would behave in the same way so there must other things which affect the criminals behaviour.

Environmental factors can also affect body types people who are poor may not be able to afford a balanced diet and this can affect growth. Lack of affection can also cause children to be small. Small children may also be the target of bullying which can later affect their confidence or cause them to fight back.

Taking body types alone is not an objective way of assessing criminal behaviour but combined with other theories it may give a greater knowledge about offenders.

Developments in recognising chromosome abnormalities have also allowed other theories to develop. Persons sex is decide by whether they have X-chromosomes or Y-chromosomes Females have xx chromosomes and males have xy chromosomes. If the cell divide abnormally a person may have three chromosomes. Some people with xxy chromosomes were found to be intellectually subnormal. Men with extra Y-chromosomes were also found to be over represented in the prison population and they were thought to be more aggressive.

Again this theory is limited to examining a group of males already in institutions and not compared to people in the community with similar chromosome abnormality. If an extra Y chromosome leads to more aggressive behaviour does it also affect men in other ways physical looks and could people be responding to this. Could this group of men be being penalised more frequently by the courts that other groups.

Whether criminals are born or made continues to be discussed and research into genetics has helped this discussion. A study by Lange looked art 30 men, 13 were identical twins and 17 were fraternal twins. All 30 men had been in prison when Lange looked at the mens brothers he found 77% of the identical brother had also been in prison but only 12% of the fraternal brother had been in prison. He also looked at a group of 200 pairs of brothers (not twins) and found that 8% of men whose brothers had been in prison another brother had also been in prison. Lange felt this proved that offending behaviour was hereditary. Newman did a similar study and found a higher percentage of similar criminal offending in identical and fraternal twins.

It is difficult to prove hereditary factors as twins will experience the same environment during their up bringing. Even more so that other brothers where circumstances within the home could have changed between one child being born and the next. Society also treats twins differently and expects them to be the same and have the same likes and dislikes this could also affect how they see other people.

Other studies have looked a criminal behaviour in people who were adopted Crowe studied 52 people who had been adopted where it was known that the natural mother had convictions. He also studied 52 other people who where the same sex, race and age at the time of adoption. Eight of the 52 from criminal mothers had been arrested compared to only two in the other group.

Studies of adoptees in other countries have produced similar findings and the offending rate is even higher if the natural parent have criminal records and the adoptive father has a criminal record.

This could show that criminality is hereditary but other factors would have to be considered. At what age was the child adopted ? What had the child s environment and care been like prior to the adoption. Had they had contact with their natural parents or were they placed for adoption at birth? Where they adopted by relatives or people with no contact with their natural parents?

All of these things can affect the findings. If the child had lived with the natural parents they may have witnessed offending behaviour. The child may have been placed for adoption because the child could have been neglected or received poor care and not loved. This could then affect the child in later life. If the child is adopted by a relative that relative could also be offending or tell the child could find out about hoe the family feel about his natural parents.

Adopted children can feel a sense of separation from their natural parent and this can affect their behaviour. Adoptive parents may fear the child will have its parent s criminal tendencies and somehow convey this to the child.

Other influences on criminal theory have been they development of psychotherapy from Freud to psychotherapists in the 1960 s who placed a lot of importance on the affects of a child trauma and how this affected them when they were adults. Social work and work with people who are mentally ill have also provided other theories, which have influenced developments in criminology.


The debate about whether criminals are born or made will continue. The history of criminology will help to provide the basis for further research. Future developments in genetics will give further findings to enable this work to continue. But people are affected by the world around them and their experience affect how they respond to other people. Although people have physical, genetic or psychological characteristics not all go on to commit offences. We still need to consider what are the factors, which make some people respond differently. We know that poverty, parenting style and community influences can all affect persons behaviour, so it would be difficult to attribute any one theory as a cause for criminal behaviour.


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