Biological Theories of Crime

Biological theories of crime attempt to explain behaviors contrary to societal expectations through examination of individual characteristics. These theories are categorized within a paradigm called positivism (also known as determinism), which asserts that behaviors, including law-violating behaviors, are determined by factors largely beyond individual control.

Outline

I. Introduction

II. Classical and Positivist Views of Behavior

III. The Scientific Method

IV. Physical Trait Theories

V. The Origins of Humanity and the Mechanisms of Inheritance

VI. Post–World War II Research on Biology and Behavior

VII. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Biological theories within the field of criminology attempt to explain behaviors contrary to societal expectations through examination of individual characteristics. These theories are categorized within a paradigm called positivism (also known as determinism), which asserts that behaviors, including law-violating behaviors, are determined by factors largely beyond individual control. Positivist theories contrast with classical theories, which argue that people generally choose their behaviors in rational processes of logical decision making, and with critical theories, which critique lawmaking, social stratification, and the unequal distribution of power and wealth.

Biological Theories of CrimePositivist theories are further classified on the basis of the types of external influences they identify as potentially determinative of individual behavior. For example, psychological and psychiatric theories look at an individual’s mental development and functioning; sociological theories evaluate the impact of social structure on individuals (e.g., social disorganization, anomie, subcultural theories, opportunity, strain) and the impact of social function and processes on individuals (e.g., differential association, social learning, social bonds, labeling). Biological theories can be classified into three types: (1) those that attempt to differentiate among individuals on the basis of certain innate (i.e., those with which you are born) outward physical traits or characteristics; (2) those that attempt to trace the source of differences to genetic or hereditary characteristics; and (3) those that attempt to distinguish among individuals on the basis of structural, functional, or chemical differences in the brain or body.

This research paper is organized in rough chronological order and by historical figures associated with an important development. It is difficult to provide an exact chronology, because several important developments and movements happened simultaneously in various parts of the world. For example, although biological theories are considered positivist, the concept of positivism did not evolve until after the evolution of some early biological perspectives. In addition, biological theories of behavior that involve some aspect of evolution, genetics, or heredity are discussed in terms of those scientific developments, although physical trait theories still continued to be popular.

The following sections discuss some of the more important and relevant considerations in scientific developments that impacted biological theories of behavior. A brief history of positivism also is provided, tracing the development and use of the biological theories from early (largely discredited) beliefs, to the most current theories on the relationship of biology to behavior. This section also provides a conclusion that discusses the role of biological theories in the future of criminological thought.