Are Criminals Born or Made?

March 24, 2018 Medical

Are criminals born or made? A criminal is defined as someone who has committed a crime. Psychologists have come up with many theories and reasons about why people commit crimes. The two main explanations lie in genetic and environmental factors, which relates to the nature and nurture debate. Studies have been carried out to explain criminal behavior. Some suggest that criminals are born; these are twin and adoption studies. On the other hand there are also studies that have been conducted to prove that criminals are made by society; these include the social learning theory and labeling behavior.

These are examples I will use to support both sides of the argument to determine whether criminals are born or made. Some biologists, medical researchers and psychologists have come to the assumption that criminal behavior is inherited just as other medical problems, such as high cholesterol and heart disease. This gives them the conclusion that criminals have a predisposition to commit crime and are indeed born. To prove this Brown et al (1998) carried out ‘twin studies’ where they kept records of twins and their contact with the police.

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This was to try and isolate the effects of hereditary and environmental factors on criminal behavior. The correlations of criminal behavour of identical and fraternal twins were compared to each other in these studies; they found that rates of involvement in criminal acts to be more similar for pairs of identical twins compared to fraternal. However, critics argue that reasons other than that of hereditary could be the cause for the result. Opposed to other siblings identical twins generally spend more time together, usually having the same friends and teachers, therefore sharing allot of experiences.

Identical twins are usually more attached to each other because of the aforementioned factors, making them similar in attitude and behavior including, involvement in criminal activity. Adoption studies were carried out to try and rule out any problems encountered in twin studies, researchers chose to study non-twin siblings, adopted and raised by different sets of parents. This was to try and determine if children of criminal parents would also turn out to be criminals.

Statistical correlation was found between criminal parents and children Barkan (1997) and other studies show that children are more likely to offend if their biological fathers have criminal records, than if their adoptive fathers do. Albert Bandura developed the Social Learning theory, which describes how people learn new behavior through reinforcement or observational learning. This is important in the Nature vs. Nurture debate as it provides key information that suggests criminals and made and not born.

The Behavioral learning explained in the model tells us how the environment a person is in causes them to behave in different ways, the cognitive learning displayed in the SLT shows how psychological factors are important for influencing how a person behaves. For instance if a child was bought up in a unstable home, surrounded with violence and criminal activity the Social learning theory would suggest that as people learn through observation, the child would see the criminal behavior and copy it.

Because the environment would most probably be a negative one, the child’s behavior –according to the theory – would be affected in later life, causing a criminal to be made. Becker (1963) developed the ‘labelling theory’ also known as the ‘social reaction theory. ’ He believed that deviance is a normal part of adolescent life. However, criminal or deviant behaviour is labelled negatively by society. The theory goes that as the person becomes labelled as deviant or a criminal a stigma attaches to them, which makes them feel they need to continue on with the criminal behaviour into adulthood, as that is their role in society.

This explains how a criminal can be made, by no particular person but by a society and a series of actions. This theory does not explain all criminal activity but it gives an insight into how criminals are formed, more specifically in the lower socio-economic groups of society who most likely have had the observational learning of criminal behaviour shown in the Social Learning Theory. After analysing both sides of the debate, the best possible answer could be a combination of the two variables in question.

That is when is found the ‘Diathesis stress model’ that states that there are people born with a tendency for violence for various reasons but may or may not become violent depending upon environmental factors. Research studies (Raine, 1993) have provided evidence of brain abnormalities contributing to aggression and criminal behaviour, while other studies have been demonstrating a link between serotonin levels and aggression.

Returning to the diathesis stress model, for an individual to evolve into a criminal, they would need to be biologically predisposed to violence and have negative environmental factors, which would cause the aggressive impulses to be expressed. Under this theory, two individuals biologically predisposed to aggression will develop differently depending upon the environment they were exposed to. The individual raised in a loving home, who is taught morals and respect for others will develop healthy boundaries and positive relationships.

Because this individual was able to develop skills for healthy relationships, they will be less likely to be involved in aggressive or criminal behaviour. The other individual in this example who is biologically predisposed to violence may be raised in a chaotic, violent, abusive home and is taught to be aggressive in order to fulfil his needs, will develop antisocial traits, lack morals, have abusive relationships and is more likely to be involved in aggressive acts.

Thus, because this individual was predisposed to violence and raised in an environment that encouraged the expression of aggression he develops into the future offender of deviant crimes. After exploring all aspects of the Nature vs. Nurture debate, I can come to the conclusion that criminals are not born or made; I believe that the most logical explanation to the question would be a combination of the two possible answers; people do have a predisposition to commit crime however only do so if are exposed to negative environmental factors.


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