Criminology today chapter 5: biological roots of criminal behavior

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CHAPTER 5: Biological Roots of Criminal Behavior

  • The field of criminology has been slow to give credence to biological theories of deviant behavior.

  • Dr. Peter Breggin: who opposes the biological explanation of crime said, “the primary problems that afflict human beings are not due to their bodies or brains, they are due to the environment. Redefining social problems as public health problems is exactly what was done in Nazi Germany.”

Biological Explanation of Crime

  • Society shies away from biological explanations for criminality and disordered behavior because of phrases like “genetic determinism,” which have come to be synonymous with inevitability.

  • Hence, people tend to believe that “biological” equals “hopeless” – since physical makeup of a person is hard to change.

  • However, genes may be more facilitators than determinants of behavior, and

  • Biologically based interventions may be some of the easiest to implement, and

  • New possibilities in the treatment arena are emerging daily.

Biological Theory

  • A theory that maintains that the basic determinants of human behavior, including criminality, are constitutionally or physiologically based and often inherited.

Biological Roots of Human Aggression

  • Charles Darwin (1809-1882) founder of the modern evolutionary theory.

  • Konrad Lorenz – applied evolution to the study of crime.

  • Page 170 – Criminal anthropology – the scientific study of the relationship between human physical characteristics and criminality

  • Phrenology – the study of the shape of the head to determine anatomical correlates of human behavior


  • Atavism – a term used by Cesare Lombroso to suggest that criminals are physiological throwbacks to earlier stages of human evolution – atavism implies the notion that criminals are born that way.

  • Criminaloids - occasional criminals who were pulled into criminality primarily by environmental influences.

  • Born criminal – an individual who is born with a genetic predilection toward criminality

Definitions – p. 176

  • Constitutional theories – explains criminality by reference to offenders’ body types, genetics, or external observable physical characteristics.

  • Somatotyping – the classification of human beings into types according to body build and other physical characteristics.

Lead Linked to Delinquent Behavior – page 180

  • Lead long has been known to lower intelligence and cause learning disabilities, but a new study show the toxic metal also might contribute to juvenile delinquency.

  • The biggest source of lead is paint in houses. 30 million houses in U.S. built before 1950 and almost all have lead based paint.

Pregnancy – Marijuana – p. 182

  • Prenatal marijuana use was significantly related to increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention symptoms, increased delinquency, and externalizing problems.

  • Studies – smoking – anti-social behavior in children

  • Prenatal alcohol exposure also seems to be linked to delinquency and psychiatric problems later in life.

Crime in the News – page 186

  • Man Accused of Sexually Assaulting Child Undergoes Castration

  • Judy Johnson – said she thinks castration will help him control his urges and that he will now benefit more from continuing therapy.

Who’s to Blame – The Individual of Society? Page 194

  • Read the story – do you agree or disagree – guilty or not guilty?

Genetic Determinism

  • The belief that genes are the major determining factor in human behavior

Childhood Maltreatment p. 195

  • Children who experience abuse – especially those exposed to erratic, coercive, and punitive parenting – frequently develop conduct disorders and display antisocial personality symptoms, and they are known to be at greater risk of becoming violent adult offenders than children who do not experience such maltreatment.


  • The systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior.

CHAPTER 6: Psychological and Psychiatric Foundations of Criminal Behavior

  • Psychological and psychiatric theories of criminal behavior emphasize individual propensities and characteristics in explanations of criminality.

  • Page 214 – story of Jeffrey Dahmer

  • Lorena Bobbitt

Definitions p. 215

  • Forensic psychology – the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system – another term for criminal psychology

  • Forensic psychiatry – a branch of psychiatry having to do with the study of crime and criminality

  • Psychological theory – a theory derived from the behavioral sciences that focuses on the individual as the unit of analysis. Psychological theories place the locus of crime causation within the personality of the individual offender.

Page 217

  • Conditioning – a psychological principle that holds that the frequency of any behavior can be increased or decreased through reward, punishment, or association with other stimuli.

  • The concept of conditioned behavior was popularized through the work of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936).


  • Psychopathy – a personality disorder characterized by antisocial behavior and lack of affect

  • Psychopath – an individual who has a personality disorder, especially one manifested in aggressively antisocial behavior, and who is lacking in empathy. Also called sociopath.

  • Historically viewed as perversely cruel, often without thought or feeling for his or her victims.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

  • Terms sociopath and psychopath fallen in disfavor – emphasis now on type of behavior exhibited – rather than on identifiable personality traits

  • Antisocial personality – a term used to describe individuals who are basically unsocialized and whose behavior pattern brings them repeatedly into conflict with society

  • Antisocial personality disorder – a psychological condition exhibited by individuals who are basically unsocialized and whose behavior pattern brings them repeatedly into conflicts with society.

Personality Disorder

  • Characterized by at least 3 of the following:

    • Callous unconcern for the feelings of others
    • Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules and obligations
    • Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty establishing them
    • Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence;
    • Incapacity to experience guilt and to profit from experience, particularly punishment;
    • Marked proneness to blame others, or to offer plausible rationalizations, for the behavior that has brought the patient into conflict with society
    • Other features of ASPD: Lack of empathy, inflated and arrogant self appraisal, and glib, superficial charm.

Psychiatric criminology

  • Theories that are derived from the medical sciences, including neurology, and the, like other psychological theories, focus on the individual as the unit of analysis. Psychiatric theories form the basis of psychiatric criminology.

Criminal Behavior as Maladaptation

  • The Psychoanalytic perspective

    • Psychoanalysis – the theory of human psychology founded by Sigmund Freud on the concepts of the unconscious, resistance, repression, sexuality, and the Oedipus complex.
    • Psychotherapy – a form of psychiatric treatment based on psychoanalytical principles and techniques.
    • Thanatos – a death wish
    • Neurosis – a functional disorder of the mind or of the emotions involving anxiety, phobia, or other abnormal behavior.

The Psychotic Offender

  • Psychosis – a form of mental illness in which sufferers are said to be out of touch with reality. The may suffer from hallucinations, delusions, or other breaks with reality.

  • Schizophrenics – a mentally ill individual who is out of touch with reality and who suffers from disjointed thinking.

  • Paranoid schizophrenic – a schizophrenic individual who suffers from delusions and hallucinations.

Link between Frustration and Aggression – page 228

  • Paul Calden - After quitting Allstate, Calden was hired by Fireman's Fund in 1990 but fired two years later after a series of confrontations with supervisors.

  •       In January 1993, dressed in a business suit, Calden walked into the Island Center Cafe where Fireman's Fund employees ate lunch. He pulled a 9mm semiautomatic handgun from beneath his jacket and approached a table of supervisors.

  •       Within seconds, he shot five people. Two died at the scene and a third died at St. Joseph's Hospital. Two others suffered serious wounds.

  •       Calden, 33, drove to a Clearwater park and killed himself.

Paul Calden continued…

  • Families of Calden's victims filed an unusual lawsuit, claiming a former employer suspected Calden might be capable of violence, but kept quiet.

  •       The target of the suit: Allstate Insurance Co., Calden's employer before he went to work for Fireman's Fund. The lawsuit says Allstate witnessed bizarre behavior in Calden but failed to alert future employers when it wrote Calden a letter of recommendation.

  •       The suit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court by three victims' wives and one of the injured workers, seeks unspecified damages from Allstate, where Calden worked in 1989 and 1990.

  • The case was settled out of court.

Modeling Theory p. 231

  • A form of social learning theory that asserts that people learn how to act by observing others.

  • The Heath High School shooting occurred at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, United States, on Monday December 1, 1997. Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal opened fire on a group of praying students killing 3 girls and wounding 5 others.

  • Carneal had been bullied by other students. This bullying was not extreme, but he may have interpreted it as more severe because of his slowly developing mental illness. Following the shooting, Carneal was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He has been hospitalised several times since the start of his incarceration due to psychosis, and takes medication for this condition. Under typical circumstances, schizophrenia does not lead to murderous behaviour. However, the onset of psychosis is confusing, and can severely impair or override a person's judgment. For this reason, people with severe mental illness generally cannot obtain gun licenses in the US. Unfortunately, guns were easily available to this teenager.

Carneal continued

  • In the Kentucky case, the young killer, 14-year-old Michael Carneal, had never undergone any firearms training. He learned how to shoot and kill from the video game. When he walked into the Bible study meeting at his high school with a gun, he proceeded to shoot his victims with deadly accuracy. Carneal later admitted that he was also influenced by the 1995 movie, The Basketball Diaries, which has a scene in which a young man enters his school and opens fire on his classmates and teacher. The character in the film is wearing a long black trench coat, just like the student killers in Colorado.

  • Another Example - Page 232 – Jason Sutter case

Behavior Theory p. 234

  • Psychological perspective – individual behavior that is rewarded will increase in frequency. While that which is punished will decrease.

  • Operant behavior – person’s behavioral choices effective

  • ly operate on the surrounding environment to produce consequences for the individual.

  • Behavior theory is often employed by parents seeking to control children through a series of rewards and punishments.

Attachment Theory

  • A social-psychological perspective on delinquent and criminal behavior that holds that the successful development of secure attachment between a child and his or her primary caregiver provides the basic foundation for all future psychological development.

  • Bowlby concluded for healthy personality development to occur, “ the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”

  • When children do not receive empathetic understanding from those around them while being socialized, they appear to become unable to see others around them as deserving of empathy, and they become more likely to inflict injury on those they encounter.

Self-Control Theory

  • A person’s ability to alter his or her own states and responses.

  • Many people, regardless of what they have learned and independently of flaws in their in their personality, are able to exercise self-control sufficient to keep them from getting into trouble with the law, even under the most challenging of circumstances.

  • Psychologists sometimes argue that the majority of today’s personal and social problems stem from deficiencies or failures in self-control.

Insanity and the Law

  • Insanity (legal) – a legally established inability to understand right from wrong or to conform one’s behavior to the requirements of the law.

  • Insanity (psychological) – persistent mental disorder or derangement.

  • M’Naughten rule – a standard for judging legal insanity that requires that offenders not know what they are doing, or if they did, that they not know it was wrong.

Legal Insanity continued

  • Irresistible-impulse test – a standard for judging legal insanity that holds that a defendant is not guilty of a criminal offense if the person, by virtue of his or her mental state or psychological condition, was not able to resist committing the crime.

  • Example – Lorena Bobbitt – p. 242

More legal tests

  • Durham rule – a standard for judging legal insanity that holds that an accused is not criminally responsible if his or her unlawful act was the product of mental disease or mental defect.

  • Substantial-capacity test – a standard for judging legal insanity that requires that a person lack the mental capacity needed to understand the wrongfulness of his or her act or to conform his or her behavior to the requirements of the law.

And more legal tests

  • Brawner rule – a somewhat vague rule for determining insanity that was created in the 1972 Federal court case of U.S. v. Brawner (471 F.2d 969), since superseded by statute, and asks the jury to decide whether the defendant could be justly held responsible for the criminal act with which he or she stands charged, in the face of any claims of insanity or mental incapacity.

More legal tests

  • Guilty but mentally ill (GBMI) – a finding that offenders are guilty of the criminal offense with which they are charged, but because of their prevailing mental condition, they are generally sent to psychiatric hospitals for treatment rather than to prison. Once they have been declared cured, however, such offenders can be transferred to correctional facilities to serve out their sentences.

Andrea Yates p. 245

  • Andrea Pia Yates (born July 2, 1964) a Houston, Texas resident, is known for killing her five young children on June 20, 2001, by drowning them in the bathtub in her house. She had been suffering for years with severe postpartum depression and psychosis. Her case placed the M'Naghten Rules, a legal test for insanity, under close public scrutiny in the United States.[1] Convicted of capital murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years, Yates' conviction was later overturned on appeal. On July 26, 2006, a Texas jury ruled Yates to be not guilty by reason of insanity. She was consequently committed by the court to the North Texas State Hospital, Vernon Campus,[2] a high-security mental health facility in Vernon, Texas, where she received medical treatment and was a roommate of Dena Schlosser, another woman who committed filicide. In January 2007, Yates was moved to a low security state mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas.[

Alabama’s Law

  • § 13A-3-1. Mental disease or defect.

  • (a) It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution for any crime that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.

  • (b) "Severe mental disease or defect" does not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.

  • (c) The defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.

  • (Alabama uses the "irresistible impulse" test.)

Alabama was first!

  • The Irresistible Impulse Test

  • In response to criticisms of M'Naghten, some legal commentators began to suggest expanding the definition of insanity to include more than a cognitive element. Such a test would encompass not only whether defendants know right from wrong but also whether they could control their impulses to commit wrong-doing. The irresistible impulse test was first adopted by the Alabama Supreme Court in the 1887 case of Parsons v. State. The Alabama Court stated that even though the defendant could tell right from wrong, he was subject to "the DURESS of such mental disease [that] he had... lost the power to choose between right and wrong" and that "his free agency was at the time destroyed," and thus, "the alleged crime was so connected with such mental disease, in the relation of cause and effect, as to have been the product of it solely." In so finding, the court assigned responsibility for the crime to the mental illness despite the defendant's ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Parsons v. State (Ala. 1887)

  • In conclusion of this branch of the subject, that we may not be misunderstood, we think it follows very clearly from what we have said that the inquiries to be submitted to the jury, then, in every criminal trial where the defense of insanity is interposed, are these: First. Was the defendant at the time of the commission of the alleged crime, as matter of fact, afflicted with a disease of the mind, so as to be either idiotic, or otherwise insane? Second. If such be the case, did he know right from wrong, as applied to the particular act in question? If he did not have such knowledge, he is not legally responsible. Third. If he did have such knowledge, he may nevertheless not be legally responsible if the two following conditions concur: (1) If, by reason of the duress of such mental disease, he had so far lost the power to choose between the right and wrong, and to avoid doing the act in question, as that his free agency was at the time destroyed; (2) and if, at the same time, the alleged crime was so connected with such mental disease, in the relation of cause and effect, as to have been the product of it solely.

Social Policy and Forensic Psychology p. 246

  • Selective incapacitation – a social policy that seeks to protect society by incarcerating the individuals deemed to be the most dangerous

  • It costs less to keep HFOA behind bars

  • Correctional psychology – the branch of forensic psychology concerned with the diagnosis and classification of offenders, the treatment of correctional populations, and the rehabilitation of inmates and other law violators.

Criminal Psychological Profiling

  • Psychological profiling – the attempt to categorize, understand, and predict the behavior of certain types of offenders based on behavioral clues they provide.

Next Class

  • Part 3 – Crime Causation Revisited

  • Chapter 7 – Social Structure Theories

  • Chapter 8 – Theories of Social Process and Social Development – to page 317

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