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Criminology Essay

2308 words - 10 pages

Criminologists apply the scientific method, which entails that methods of research must be based on testable empirical evidence, to explaining criminal behaviour. Criminology emerged as a discipline in the mid-18th century, with classical theorists such as Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), analysing criminality based on an assumption of human free will. The positivist school arose in the 19th century. Positivist theorists, such as Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), presume that criminality is scientifically testable and is caused by internal or external factors out-with the control of the individual. The Chicago school aimed to apply sociological theories of crime to an ...view middle of the document...

Biological evidence relates to methods such as researching family histories and conducting twin studies (wherein criminality is compared between identical and non-identical twins) and adoption studies (which compare criminality between adoptees and their biological parents and also their adoptive parents). For example, in his twin study, Christiansen (1968) found that identical twins had a concordance rate of 35.8% with regards to criminal behaviour, whereas non-identical twins only had a 12.3% rate of similarity. However, Dalgaard and Kringlen (1976), pointed out that MZ twins are more likely to be psychologically close than DZ twins, which could account for the closer correlations of MZ twins. Concordance rates are also measured between biological parents and their adopted children, in an attempt to separate genetic and environmental influences of criminal behaviour.

One genetic theory has made a link between monoamine oxidase (MAOA – a structural gene of the X chromosome) and criminal behaviour. Brunner et al studied a Dutch family in 1993. The male members had many convictions resulting from rape, arson and violent conduct. Brunner identified a lack of MAOA in the males’ urine samples – a chemical which is responsible for the regulation of dopamine and serotonin (neurotransmitters). Brunner claimed that a MAOA deficiency could lead to impulsive behaviour, aggression and behavioural problems. However, from the Dunedin Longitudinal Study (1973), Moffitt et al found strong evidence for environmental influences. The relationship between criminal behaviour and childhood maltreatment was investigated. In those who were not maltreated during childhood, there was little difference between those with high and low levels of MAOA, in relation to the development of delinquent behaviour. However, in children who had suffered maltreatment, those with low levels of the chemical MAOA were likely to adopt deviant behaviour.

The influence of the biological theory of criminal behaviour should not be underestimated. In 2009 a man found guilty of murder in Italy was given a reduced sentence, on the grounds that his biological make-up made him predisposed to violent behaviour. This is a frightening development – will society reach a point where murderers and rapists can routinely use their genetic make-up as an excuse for their criminal behaviour? Also in critique of the biological theory, many theorists argue that the results of research into genetic transmission and crime could just as easily have been product of the socialisation process. Many studies, such as Bandura’s (1961-1963) ground-breaking ‘Bobo doll’ experiment, offer strong evidence which suggests that criminal behaviour is a learned factor, as opposed to an innate/inherited one. Bandura formed his Social Learning Theory around this experiment, which found that following exposure to an adult model acting aggressively, children would imitate or copy their aggressive behaviour, thus emphasising the...

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