Criminal Behavior

The four general approaches to explaining criminal behavior are sociological theories, biological theories, psychological theories, and social-psychological theories. Sociological theory is which maintain that crime results from social or cultural forces that are external to any specific individual; exist prior to any criminal act; and emerge from social class, political, ecological, or physical structures affecting large groups of people. Biological theories of crime stress genetic influences, neuropsychological abnormalities, and biochemical irregularities. There is little empirical evidence that either sociological or biological theories independently predict criminal behavior. Psychological theories emphasize that crime results from personality attributes that are uniquely possessed or possessed to a special degree, by the potential criminal.

For example, psychoanalysts have proposed several variations on the theme that crime is the result of an ego and superego that are too weak to control the sexual and aggressive instincts of the id. Other psychological; approaches have focused more on patterns of thinking- particularly with respect to recognized risk factors such as pro-criminal attitudes or certain kinds of personality disorders. Social-psychological theories or social process theories bridge the gap between the environmentalism of sociology and the individualism of psychological or biological theories.

Social-psychological theories propose that crime is learned, but they differ about what is learned and how it is learned. (Greene & Heilbrun, 2011) The theory of differential opportunity explains the reason someone turns to a life of crime because if a person is raised in a bad environment they could turn to a life of crime because they were raised around it. But the same goes for if you are raised in a good environment they will not end up in a crime lifestyle.

The limitations of this theory are that some people who come from great and loving families still can end up living a life of crime. There is no sure way to know why it happens. There are three personality dimensions of extroversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Extroverted people are active, aggressive, and impulsive. Persons high in neuroticism are restless, emotionally volatile, and hypersensitive. Persons high in psychoticism are troublesome, lacking in empathy, and insensitive to the point of cruelty.  Psychopathy refers to individuals who engage in frequent, repetitive criminal activity for which they feel little or no remorse. Such persons appear chronically deceitful and manipulative; they seem to have a nearly total lack of conscience that propels them into repeated conflict with society, often from a very early age. They are superficial, arrogant, and do not seem to learn from experience; they lack empathy and loyalty to individuals, groups, or society.

Psychopaths are selfish, callus, and irresponsible; they tend to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for their behavior. (Greene & Heilbrun, 2011) There are a multitude of theories about what causes psychopathic behavior. One view is that psychopathic persons suffer a cortical immaturity that makes it difficult for them to inhibit behavior. Robert Hare has proposed that psychopaths may have a deficiency in the left hemisphere of their brains that impairs executive function, the ability to plan and regulate behavior carefully.

Considerable research supports a strong relationship between antisocial behavior and impaired executive functioning. (Greene & Heilbrun, 2011) The most extreme version of a social-psychological theory of crime to the social labeling perspective. Its emergence as an explanation reflects, 1, frustration about the ability of prior approaches to provide comprehensive explanations and, 2, a shift in emphasis from why people commit crimes to why some people are labeled “criminals”. Greene & Heilbrun, 2011) Social labeling theory makes a distinction between primary deviance, or the criminal’s actual behavior, and secondary deviance, or society’s reaction to the offensive conduct. With primary deviance, offenders often rationalize their behavior as a temporary mistake, or they see it as part of a socially acceptable role. Whether or not that self-assessment is accurate, secondary deviance serves to brand then with a more permanent “criminal” stigma.