“Nothing matters but the facts. Without them, the science of criminal investigation is nothing more than a guessing game” (Blake Edwards 1922).
Criminal psychology, which is one of the recently arising fields in Psychology but had been created a long while ago, is the study of the mentality, the motivation, and the social behavior of criminals (Miller 2004). It was established at the beginning of 20th century by a German-American psychologist named Hugo Munsterberg, who was known for an applied psychology (Weimer 2003). In 1908, he published the first book about the criminal psychology called “On the Witness Stand” and it allowed him to contribute an evolution of criminal psychology and spread its development worldwide (Weimer 2003). Especially, his works from the 19th century to the 20th century were very practical for various psychologists to use in their own investigation of psychology (Weimer 2003).
Criminal psychology can be described as the combination of criminology and criminal justice psychology (Alex 2016). The major difference between criminology and criminal psychology is that Criminology is a subdivision of sociology, which refers to the social causes of the crime while criminal psychology concentrates on the way how criminals think and behave according to their motivation to cause a crime (Alex 2016).
As well as criminal justice psychology, forensic psychology is another field that is highly related to criminal psychology (Kendra 2018). Both terms are analogous that they are interchangeable (Kendra 2018). While criminal psychology explains the intersection of criminology and criminal justice, forensic psychology focuses on the intersection of psychology and the law thus investigates the criminal minds and behaviors (Marisa 2010).
Consequently, a person who outlines and analyzes the criminal behaviors are called a criminal psychologist. Criminal actions are held out when there is the existence of motivation, meanings, and an opportunity. The role of the criminal psychologist is examining the thoughts and behaviors of criminals (Kendra 2018). They try to gather related investigations with each other, exchanging from creating an outline of criminal process to conduction of psychological testing of people for numerous crimes (Kristen 2018). They also try to find out why do people commit a crime, what has made them to do the offensive action, and what are their motives involved in the crime (Kendra 2018). Criminal psychologists may also be asked to work on criminals to evaluate on the recidivism: the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend (Kendra 2018).
The nature of criminal behavior can be examined through three levels of analysis: biological, cognitive, and sociocultural. To link with criminality, all the criminal behaviors can be explained using these three factors and some related research studies (Kendra 2018). I will be using these topics to investigate my research question: “To what extent do biological factors contribute to criminal behavior?”
Biological factors related to criminal behavior
Being born with criminal or becoming criminal is a very controversial topic among researchers, especially for scientists and psychologists. However, there are numerous biological elements that can subsidize to criminal behaviors. There are several theories supporting the biological nature of criminal actions and these incorporate with the concept of genetics, brain structure and neurotransmitters.
Biological factors that contribute to criminal behavior are the most significant considerations to study in order to learn about the criminal psychology. There are three main biological factors that have a contribution to the criminal behavior. Criminal behaviors had been always proposed a curiosity on rather it is caused by nature or nurture on the field of behavioral sciences since the early 19th century.
The first factor that leads to criminal behavior is genetics. They are the outcome of individual genes received from their parents at the time when they are born.
In order to conclude how much do genetics may contribute a role in the criminal activity, psychologists have conducted an experiment of twin studies. German physiologists, Johannes Lange, have conducted an exploration with the identical twins of thirteen adult male pairs.
He found out the fact that if the confinement record was with one twin, then the other pair also would have similarly imprisoned for seventy-seven percent of the incidents. However, in a comparable group of seventeen pairs of fraternal twins, when one twin had been imprisoned, the other prisoner had a record of only twelve percent of the incidents (Clara 2011). Johannes has proposed a conclusion that criminal behavior among identical twins was greater compared to the criminal behavior among fraternal twins.
Another factor, which also counts as a biological factor is the brain. According to their structure of the brain, psychologists can determine rather they have a possibility to cause a crime or act in a criminal behavior.
Since the 1980s, when the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines were created, which allowed lots of psychologists and scientists to begin imaging through people’s brain, the concept for the linkage between brain structure and behavior variations were developed. There is numerous amount of studies to prove the interrelationship between violent behavior and the structure of the brain.
One of the famous studies in this field of psychology is known as Phineas Gage study.
He was a normal railroad worker working at the railroad construction and while working, the long steel pole went through his head, which caused his frontal lobe to be damaged. After the accident, his personality was totally changed from before, but, he was perfectly cured only in one month. This study let us know that damage in frontal lobe will cause a change in personality and behavior since the frontal lobe is in charge of decision making. Also, it proved the correlations between brain function and the human behavior.
In addition to Gauge’s study, another research on the brain has focused primarily on the correlation between emotions and decision making. This study generally focused on anti-social behavior and disarrays of psychopaths (Clara 2011). The researchers compared the brain structure of 27 psychopaths with 32 non-psychopaths. They specifically looked through the area called amygdala. Amygdala is in charge of controlling our emotions. Researchers found out that the brain of psychopath’s amygdala showed a reduction of volume in this part of the brain. This means that Psychopaths generally lacks emotion such as empathy and guiltiness (Clara 2011).
Moreover, the system in our brain known as limbic system usually controls emotion while frontal lobe controls on decision making. This shows the interaction between the two parts of the brain, limbic system and frontal lobe, which provides an insight into the nature of the criminal behavior (Clara 2011).
The last factor of a biological factor is about neurotransmitters and hormones. There were about thirty studies since the late 1980s that have been conducted to examine the linkage between the antisocial behavior and the neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitter is a chemical substance that is released at the end of a nerve fiber by the arrival of a nerve impulse and, by diffusing across the synapse or junction, causes the transfer of the impulse to another nerve fiber, a muscle fiber, or some other structure (Kendra 2018). These chemical messengers can influence a wide range of both psychological and physical functions.
Our hormones stored in the endocrine system plays a key role in controlling our behavior. The study was held at Harvard and Texas University and they said hormones such as testosterone and cortisol plays a major role in criminal behavior such as person committing an unethical behavior. Testosterone is a hormone that represents the aggression in man. The study was specifically called hormones and ethics: understanding the biological basis of unethical conduct (Gallagher 2015).
Moreover, two researchers named Scerbo and Raine have shown their studies on the correlation between the levels of impulsive behavior and the role of neurotransmitter in our brain. They reported that on the average, twenty-eight studies displayed the idea of antisocial people expressively having lower levels of serotonin compared to the normal people’s serotonin levels (Rose 2007).
Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitter linked to violent behavior. It has been linked to disruptive and impetuous behavior, which usually leads to a criminal behavior. Fascinating point here is that men with the lower levels of serotonin were more likely to cause a crime. Serotonin has a contribution to our feelings associated with the “happiness”. It is released inside the synaptic clefs between our neurons in the brain (Jake 2015). Therefore, if there is a man with a low level of serotonin, he will feel very depressed instead of happy leading them to cause a violent or criminal behavior.
Cognitive factors related to criminal behavior
Other than the biological factors related to the criminal behavior, cognitive levels of factors also may lead to the nature of criminal actions. Cognition refers to the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thoughts, experiences, and the senses (Webster 2018). Among the cognitive levels of factors, cognitive distortions such as faulty thinking are the biggest one attributing to criminal behavior.
The two researchers, Yochelson and Samenow in 1976, have conducted an experiment to look through the thinking of criminals. They proposed that cognitive distortions are the outcome of the criminal behavior. This theory suggests the significant role of cognition in the origin of criminal performance.
Another substantial study for cognitive level of analysis related to the criminal actions was accompanied by two researchers, Cornish and Clark in 1987. The theory proposed by them was the Rational Choice Theory (RCT). They claimed that most of the criminal behavior is the outcome of a rational decision making procedure. This theory was developed based upon the assumption that criminals tend to get advantage from committing a crime. If the benefits that they will get as a consequence compensate the cost, they will be more likely to commit a criminal behavior (Webster 2018).
Another support for this theory was directed by Wright and Bennett in 1984. They went to interview some imprisoned burglars and asked them for the reason that influenced their decision of robbing other people’s home. They found out three main factors affecting the decision, which were a risk, financial reward, and ease of entry.
From this theory of rational choice and through the decision-making process, thinking patterns and habits in the cognition solitarily is not able to explain and interpret the nature of criminal behavior.
Sociocultural factors related to criminal behavior
Another perspective of looking at the criminal behavior would be sociocultural factors. This factor contemplates on how the culture and society affect our behavior.
Messner (1988) has suggested a significant concept of structural poverty in the field of criminal psychology. Structural poverty is characterized by single-parent families, high infant mortality rates, low levels of education, and low social mobility (Bruenig 2014). He found out the strong interrelationship between the rate of committing a crime and the structural poverty than between the rate of income levels and the crime.
Another factor that is correlated with the criminal or violent action is unemployment. Unemployment refers to the group of people who are jobless and actively seeking a work or job. Variety of studies have shown a correlation between the rates of unemployment and the rate of crime (Bruenig 2014). Unemployment such as poverty is a very complex phenomenon since unemployment can destroy one’s self-esteem and provoke the feeling that life is tedious and meaningless and this would be the factor contributing to the crime rate.
Another theory that supports socio-cultural factors of criminal behaviors would be biological factors that lead to committing a criminal act. Since poverty was linked to the higher degree of stress on the mother of a developing child, it may affect the fetus while the baby is inside mother’s womb and result in an impairment of the functioning for the brain, thus gradually resulting to the criminal behavior.