Biological and Psychological Explanations of Crime.


The purpose of this assignment is to examine the biological and psychological explanations of crime. It will primarily focus on Cesare Lombroso’s theory in that he believed that criminals could be determined and identified by their physical appearance and attributes. It will cover Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation and how childhood violence and trauma can affect a person’s behaviour and personality. It will further explain the strengths and weaknesses and how criminals are perceived in contemporary Britain today.

Cesare Lombroso was an Italian criminologist born in Venice, Italy in 1836. He went on to become a university professor who became renowned worldwide for his studies and theories. Lombroso worked in the field of Characterology, which meant he studied the difference between mental and physical characteristics. Lombroso was also a physician, psychiatrist and a coroner he worked at various mental institutions therefore allowing him the opportunity to examine people from all aspects of life, he knew that by doing so he would be able to collect the relevant information that was needed and which would be essential to base his research on (www.Britannica.com).

Lombroso carried out investigations on the post mortem bodies of criminals, when opened up it went on to reveal that they were physically different from non criminals. He maintained that criminals have stigmata (signs) and that these stigmata’s consisted of abnormal dimensions of the skull and jaw, asymmetries in the face and other parts of the body, he even claimed that different criminals have different physical characteristics which he could distinguish (www.brocku.com).

Lombroso argued that criminality is inherited, his theory was biological determinism which means that people don’t have any choice in which way they turn out. There is no free will involved the way they turn out is genetic so if the parents are criminal then they are more likely to be criminal. He believed that the born criminal could be identified by physiognomic defects as this confirmed a criminal as savage or atavistic (what he sees as a throwback to an earlier stage of evolution) (www.Newworldencyclopedia.org). He looked at defects such as a sloping brow, which symbolises low intellect he also suggested that a renowned jaw, symbolised strong passion. Lombroso believes that people bearing such defects behaved in a different way to the rest of society and have a low ability to show any kind of guilt or remorse.

The weakness that was established in this theory found that these associations were later shown to be highly inconsistent or inexistent, and Lombroso had not used a control group therefore having nothing of any substantial nature to compare his results to. This became Lombroso’s biggest flaw in his research and theory. Due to this weakness the theories that were based on the environment causation of criminality that then became dominant meant that he believes the environment makes criminals and that then became his only theory. (www.Newworldencyclopedia.org)

Lombroso’s theory proposed that criminality was innate, and this could be distinguished by their physical atavist stigmata, their physiognomic attributes or deformities. He believed the human race evolved, whereas those who are criminal or have the violent tendencies are the ones that devolve. So to Lombroso the criminal would have the attributes of high cheekbones, low sloping forehead, handle shaped ears, hard shifty eyes, scanty beard or baldness, insensitivity to pain. A weakness in Lombroso’s theory about physical appearances determining criminals cannot be a hundred percent accurate as people who have disfigurements to their face could be down to an accident they had in the early years of their life. (www.ezineartic.com)

However, there is not sufficient psychological evidence to show that these behaviours were only applied to criminals this is seen as a weakness towards his theory, as not everybody who has an abnormality is a criminal. Victoria Wright was born with a rare genetic disorder called Cherubism, which causes an over growth of fibrous tissue in the face. Victoria is twenty nine years old and is currently studying law part time as she is planning to become a solicitor, and by becoming one she could represent people who have experienced discrimination. (www.nhs.uk)

Charles Goring (1913) was Lombroso’s main critic he decided to take a much closer look at Lombroso’s conclusion, not only did he study a group of criminals he also looked at members of the military so he had something to compare against (Dwyer, D 2001). He wanted to see if they showed any differences in behaviour and he found no significant difference between them so this was a weakness against his theory. The only difference between Goring’s studies to Lombroso’s was that criminals were on average two inches shorter and between three and seven pounds lighter but poor diet could have been the main factor to that theory (www.trutv.com)
Lombroso theory has a strength which reflects in contemporary society. When criminals are sentenced for crimes, the less attractive individual was more likely to be considered guilty fifty percent more than attractive people (www.Telegraph.co.uk). A study had been carried out between two black defendants one was attractive and the other was unattractive, who were both in court it had shown that they were more likely to be found guilty and giving longer sentences (www.newsvote.bbc.co.uk).
This study supports this while Irrespective of the ethnicity of the juror; unattractive black dependents were ultimately giving the harshest sentences. Research has also found that woman jurors tend to treat attractive female suspects more ruthlessly than they would with the male suspects, as they think they are trying to capitalise on their looks, while men tend to give attractive woman the benefit of the doubt and receive more lenient sentences. However, it is positive findings that neither black nor white participants showed a prejudice towards their own ethnic group. . (www.Dailymail.co.uk)

Having looked at Cesare Lombroso this essay will now move on to look at Bowlby’s theory on attachment.
John Bowlby was born in London 1907 he was the fourth of six children. His parents were of upper class origin where it was custom for children to have a nanny or nursemaid. When he turned four the nanny left the effect on him was never known. At eleven his brother and himself was sent to a boarding school and when he reached seventeen he decided that navy life was not for him. He decided to follow his father’s footsteps by going into medicine and decided to do psychology in his final year. When Bowlby graduated he went on to teach in two boarding schools. One of them just catered for disturbed children, they had encountered an early disrupted childhood experience which Bowlby was fascinated with, that’s when he decided to combine his medical training with psychoanalytic training. (Psychology.Jrank.org)

Bowlby was really interested towards the theory of maternal deprivation and was fascinated with what happens regarding separation. Maybe this interest festered from his own childhood experiences, it was through working with maladjusted children who repeatedly went out to thieve, that led him to publicise a book on the forty four juvenile thieves focussing on their characters and home life (Bowlby, J. 1946). While Bowlby was working he and a colleague started to notice how anxious children became when their parents did not visit them, it was also noted that when they had home visits the relationship between the child and their mother then became very disturbed for up to a few weeks after. (Burke Hopkins R 2005)

After careful observation Bowlby started to identify different patterns of attachment, which enabled the theory and research into the consequences of security versus insecurity (www.nytimes.com). He firmly believes that mothers and their babies form an automatic attachment towards each other by using genetically inherited skills such as smiling, crying and facial expressions. (Hale, C. et-al 2005).
“Mother love in infancy is as important for mental health as vitamins and proteins are for physical health.” John Bowlby (1951)

Bowlby is convinced that the bond with the mother would be irreversibly broken if a separation occurs within the first few years of the child’s life which could lead to severe emotional problems in later life, Holmes (2005) focused on early maternal deprivation and also found the results similar as being the cause of criminality (Williams, S, K 2008) For Bowlby maternal deprivation has the following consequences aggression, depression, delinquency, dependency anxiety (being clingy), intellectual retardation, affectionless psychopath and social maladjustment (Coleman, C. Norris, C 2000).
.Things were a lot different in the 1900’s the norm would have been a husband, wife and 2.4 children. Mothers were expected to stay at home more while the husbands went out to work. Over time society has become a lot more diverse for example same sex couples are able to adopt children and there are far more single parents within society today and nowadays a majority of both parents go out to work (Croall, H.1998). This is seen as a weakness in Bowlby’s theory. A good strength for his theory however is that prisons now allocate mother and babies to stay together in special units so they can care for their babies up to the age of two, the government feel that this is the right thing to do as it gives the babies and mother the chance to bond (Hale, C. et-al 2005).
The strength for Bowlby’s theory is based on the case study given below, where it does show some of the problems that has been discussed above. The case study of Robert Napper who murdered Rachel Nickell, revealed that the first ten years of Nappers life he and his siblings witnessed his mother become the victim of his father’s brutal violence. The children were so traumatised that they had to be placed in foster homes and undergo psychiatric treatment (Guardian.co.uk). He descended into black dark moods, had a behaviour disorder, suffered with serious mental illness and became a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered with Aspergers syndrome (Dailymail.co.uk). In school he did not have any friends and he was teased a lot, Robert was found to have had only average intelligence
Robert Napper began to bully his brothers to an extreme degree even shooting one in the face with an air pistol. (www.telegraph.co.uk) Robert Napper deliberately went out and raped woman for a number of years before the level of his violence escalated to murder, he had a profound hatred of woman which was expressed in his violent attacks. Bowlby called this condition affectionate psychopathy meaning that the individual feels no remorse for their victims or guilt for the crime they have committed (Dwyer, D 2001). Whilst In the woods near his home Robert was raped, and perhaps it was significant as the woman he attacked was around the actual place where he was raped and that seemed to be the trigger for this brutal encounter, which would later be echoed by his crimes (Dailymail.co.uk)

In conclusion to Lombroso’s and Bowlby’s studies new research is now showing that genetic and biological factors play an equal, if not greater, role than social factors in crime causation. The biological and genetic findings are now unquestionable the evidence is too strong to ignore this new breakthrough has new implications towards crime prevention. The next decade will reveal new discoveries regarding specific genes that cause violent behaviour. These findings could result in new drugs being used to correct the neurotransmitter brain abnormalities that cause violence.

(www.news.bbc.co.uk). The theories that Lombroso and Bowlby concluded in what makes a criminal still stand in the 21st century. Having looked at the case study above it can give an insight into criminals looking and acting alike, although they may not have all the characteristics of Lombroso’s theory, they do have some of the attributes as Lombroso suggests. In society today it is thought that children who are not close to their mothers do tend to go out and commit crimes (Williams, S, K 2008).

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