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Posted: January 26th, 2019

Biological theories of crime: how do biological factors correspond with law violation?

Biological theories of crime: how do biological factors correspond with law violation?

Biological theories of crime are based on the assumption that some people are more prone to criminal behaviour than others due to their genetic, physiological or neurological characteristics. These theories aim to explain how biological factors, such as hormones, brain structure, genes or evolution, influence the development of criminality and the likelihood of law violation.

One of the earliest biological theories of crime was proposed by Cesare Lombroso in the 19th century, who argued that criminals were born with certain physical traits that distinguished them from non-criminals, such as a large jaw, a sloping forehead or asymmetrical facial features. He called these people “atavistic”, meaning that they were evolutionary throwbacks to a more primitive stage of human development. Lombroso’s theory was later challenged by other researchers who found no consistent correlation between physical appearance and criminality, and who pointed out the flaws in his methodology and measurements.

Another biological theory of crime is the hormonal theory, which suggests that hormonal imbalances or fluctuations can affect the mood, behaviour and impulse control of individuals, and thus increase their propensity for aggression and violence. For example, some studies have found that high levels of testosterone are associated with higher rates of violent crime among males, especially in adolescence and young adulthood. Other studies have examined the role of cortisol, a stress hormone, in modulating the response to threat and fear, and how it may influence the decision to engage in criminal acts.

A more recent biological theory of crime is the neurological theory, which focuses on the brain structure and function of criminals. This theory posits that some people have abnormalities or dysfunctions in certain brain regions or circuits that are involved in emotion regulation, moral reasoning, impulse control or social cognition, and that these impairments predispose them to antisocial or criminal behaviour. For instance, some studies have shown that psychopaths have reduced activity or volume in the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for empathy, guilt, remorse and moral judgment. Other studies have explored the effects of brain injuries, infections, diseases or environmental toxins on the development of criminality.

Biological theories of crime have several implications for the understanding and prevention of criminal behaviour. They suggest that criminality is not only a product of social or environmental factors, but also of innate or acquired biological traits that may be influenced by genetics, hormones or brain function. They also imply that some people may be more vulnerable or resistant to criminal influences than others, depending on their biological makeup. Moreover, they indicate that some forms of criminal behaviour may be treatable or preventable through medical interventions, such as hormone therapy, neurofeedback or pharmacological agents.

However, biological theories of crime also face several limitations and criticisms. They do not account for the complex interactions between biological and social factors that shape human behaviour and personality. They do not explain why some people with similar biological characteristics do not become criminals, or why some people commit crimes only under certain circumstances or conditions. They may also be used to justify discrimination or stigma against certain groups or individuals based on their biological features. Furthermore, they may raise ethical issues regarding the use of biological interventions to modify or control criminal behaviour.

In conclusion, biological theories of crime are an important perspective in criminology that attempt to explain how biological factors correspond with law violation. They offer valuable insights into the causes and consequences of criminality, but they also have significant drawbacks and challenges that need to be addressed.


– Raine A (2013) The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime. Penguin Books.
– Beaver KM (2009) Biosocial Criminology: A Primer. Kendall Hunt Publishing.
– Walsh A and Ellis L (2007) Biosocial Criminology: New Directions in Theory and Research. Routledge.
– Moffitt TE (2005) The new look of behavioral genetics in developmental psychopathology: gene-environment interplay in antisocial behaviors. Psychological Bulletin 131(4):533-554.
– DeLisi M and Vaughn MG (2014) Foundation for i need help with an essay a temperament-based theory of antisocial behavior and criminal justice system involvement. Journal of Criminal Justice 42(1):10-25.
– Glenn AL and Raine A (2014) Psychopathy: An Introduction to Biological Findings and Their Implications. NYU Press.


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