10. Intelligence and Crime
Criminologists have suggested for centuries that there exists a link between intelligence and crime (Dabney, 2004). Some common beliefs are that criminals and delinquents possess low intelligence and that this low intelligence causes criminality. As criminological research has advanced, scholars have continued to suggest that the Holy Grail is causality. The ability to predict criminals from noncriminals is the ultimate goal. The ideology or concept of IQ and crime has crystallized into the nature-versus-nurture debate (Jacoby, 2004).
The nature-versus-nurture debate is a psychological argument that is related to whether the environment or heredity impacts the psychological development of individuals (Messner & Rosenfield, 2007). Science recognizes that we share our parents’ DNA. To illustrate, some people have short fingers like their mother and brown eyes like their father. However, the question remains: Where do individuals get their love of sports, literature, and humor? The nature-versus-nurture debate addresses this issue. With respect to the nature side, research on the prison population has consistently shown that inmates typically score low on IQ tests (Schmalleger, 2008). In the early decades of the 20th century, researchers administered IQ tests to delinquent male children. The results indicated that close to 40% had below-average intelligence (Siegal, 2008). On the basis of these data and other studies, some scholars argue that the role of nature is prevalent. However, can researchers assume a priori that heredity determines IQ, which in turn influences an individual’s criminal behavior? One criticism of this perspective is the failure to account for free will. Many individuals in our society believe in the ability to make choices. Last, there are many individuals who have a low IQ but refrain from committing crime.
With respect to nurture theory, advocates ground themselves on the premise that intelligence is not inherited. There is some recognition of the role of heredity; however, emphasis is placed on the role of society (i.e., environment). To demonstrate, parents are a major influence on their children’s behavior. At an early age, parents read books; play music; and engage their children in art, museum, and sporting events. Some parents spend no quality time with their children, and these children are believed to perform poorly on intelligence test. Other groups important in a child’s nurturing are friends, relatives, and teachers. Ultimately, the child who has no friends or relatives and drops out of school is destined for difficult times. Research has demonstrated that the more education a person has, the higher his or her IQ.
The nature-versus-nurture debate will continue. The debate has peaks and valleys. For years, the debate subsides, and this is followed by years of scrutiny and a great deal of attention. One of two major studies that highlighted this debate was conducted by Travis Hirschi and Michael Hindelang (1977). These scholars suggested that low IQ increases the likelihood of criminal behavior through its effect on school performance. This argument seems somewhat elementary. Their argument is that a child with a low IQ will perform poorly in school. In turn, this school failure is followed by dropping out. Given the poor school performance, a child is left with very few options (Hirschi & Hindelang, 1977). This ultimately leads to delinquency and adult criminality. Support of this position has been widespread. Furthermore, it is important to note that U.S. prisons and jails are highly populated with inmates who only have an average of eighth-grade education. At the same time, these same inmates at the time of their offense were unemployed.
The second nature-versus-nature study that warrants attention was conducted by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray (1994). In their book The Bell Curve, these scholars suggested individuals with a lower IQ are more likely to commit crime, get caught, and be sent to prison. Importantly, these authors transport the IQ and crime link to another level. Specifically, they suggested that prisons and jails are highly populated with inmates with low IQs; however, what about those criminals who actions go undetected? Through self-reported data, the researchers discovered that these individuals have a lower IQ than the general public. Thus, research concludes those criminal offenders who have been caught and those who have not have an IQ lower than the general population (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994).