An Evaluation on the Biological Theories of Crime

An Evaluation on the Biological Theories of Crime
An Evaluation on the Biological Theories of Crime

The biological theories of crime are based on the nature versus nurture debate. Are we born criminals or do we learn crime? The main objective of these theories is: ?Does the way you look say that you are a criminal?? Lombroso (1876)introduced the first theory. This theory proposes the following three points:
You have an innate predisposition towards criminal behaviour. In
other words crime is something you are born to do.
Your physiognomy ? the way you are going to turn out by the way you
We as ?normal? humans are termed as Homo Sapiens. Criminals are
thought to be ?retarded?; therefore they are termed as Homo Deliquens.
Lombroso stated that criminals (homo delinquens) exhibit the following physical characteristics:
A narrow sloping brow symbolizing low intellect
High cheekbones and large ears
Extra nipples, fingers or toes
A renowned jaw symbolizing strong passion
Lombroso had also stated that these criminals behaved in a different way to everyone else. These different behaviours are as follows:
An inability to adjust to social and moral issues
An inability to differentiate between right and wrong
A low inability to show any kind of guilt or remorse
An inability to show any kind of feelings towards other people
An inability to form any kind of relationship
However, from an evaluative point of view, there is no actual psychological evidence to show that these behaviours are true only for criminals. Goring (1913) tested a group of criminals and non-criminals to see if they showed any differences in behaviour and he found no significant difference between them. Lombroso revised his ideas to explain that women also display the same behavioural characteristics as men but the only difference between men and women is that women are more jealous and vengeful and are capable of more atrocious cruelty than men. Lombroso had also labelled prisons as ?criminal universities?. By this he meant that criminals came out much worse than when they first went in and their attitudes have not changed. There are many reasons why criminals behave this way but the biggest influence on their behaviour is the environment. This is because they may have had a poor family history in which they were deprived of their mother at a young age (hence maternal deprivation) or they lived in poverty for many years and had trouble coping with bills or buying food to eat. They may have been subjected to crime at a young age because they may have had a parent who took drugs or smoked and if there was no money to buy the drugs then they would be made to steal in order to get the money. A strong criticism of Lombroso?s theory was that it encouraged stereotyping. This, in turn, would then encourage prejudice and discrimination. For example if children are shown a picture of a man with tattoos, they will indicate a negative attribution towards the picture rather than to a picture of a man without tattoos (tattoos on a man are known to be a good indicator of being a criminal). Yet, the only problem with stereotyping is that there is no strong evidence to prove it and that the research methods used were defective. It has also been criticised on methodological grounds:
A proper control group was not used
The criminal samples contained mostly mentally disturbed people
However, Lombroso?s theory proved to useful because he challenged the idea that criminals are wicked or that they choose to be criminals. He also accepted the fact that the environment does contribute to the growth of criminal behaviour. Sheldon (1949)introduced the next theory. His theory is linking criminal behaviour to body type. He proposed three distinct body types:
Endomorphs ? fat, soft, pleasure loving, relaxed, enjoy eating food
and enjoy company.
Ectomorphs ? thin, fragile, solitary, retained and self-conscious.
Mesomorphs ? muscular, hard, aggressive, have high pain tolerances,
heartless and uncaring about other people?s feelings.
Somatotype ? term used to describe body types Sheldon identified the criminal body type as being mesomorph. Sheldon carried out an experiment where he took full-length photographs of 200 male college students and 200 male delinquents and rated each individual on three different scales of 1-7,each scale representing the body types. endomorph 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ectomorph 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 mesomorph 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 It is expected that the students achieve the type score of 4 which most of the students did achieve. The students were then compared to the delinquent subtypes and the criminals and the results are shown below: body type students delinquents criminals Endomorph 3.2 3.5 3.4 Ectomorph 3.4 2.7 1.8 Mesomorph 3.8 4.6 5.4 It was found that the criminal group were more mesomorphic and very unbalanced compared to the other groups. Sheldon?s theory was severely criticised. This was because:
He used subjective criteria to allocate normal and
delinquent subtypes into conditions.
Any follow up studies have produced inconsistent results, therefore
The study underestimates the effects of environmental influences on
our behaviour.
More objective criteria can make the differences between the groups
decrease. However, the delinquents are shown to be more mesomorphic
than non-delinquents.
There are alternative explanations towards Sheldon?s findings. They are as follows:
The reason for their muscular body type is that mesomorphs who
commit crime may be occupied with heavy manual labour as a result of
their poverty.
An inclination towards crime may have been reinforced if muscular
people realise that they can use their additional strength to control
other people and achieve anything they want in life very quickly and
ahead of time.
The police may respond in a different manner to tough looking people
rather than people who look weak and this would therefore lead to more
negative judgments of tough people.
The major problem of both these theories is that they both believed that correlations imply causalities when in actual fact this is not true because this could be due to poverty.

An Evaluation on the Biological Theories of Crime 6.8 of 10 on the basis of 3040 Review.