Term Paper: Crime Understanding Why Crime Occurs

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[. . .] Researchers also found those individuals who posses this extra chromosome have a delay in maturation, causing a delay in intelligence, which is also linked to criminals (Moyer 1979).


Early studies at the beginning of the twentieth century attempting to address the hereditary bases of criminality by examining traditional families were eventually abandoned because it was essentially impossible to disentangle the effects of genes from those of the environment (Christiansen, 1977). Half a century later, researchers like Mednick and Christiansen (1971), found that one way to determine the role of genetics was to compare the incidences and types of criminal convictions of identical and fraternal twins.

In the earlier studies conducted on the behavior of twins, researchers generally found greater similarities of criminal behavior between identical twins than between fraternal twins. A review of relevant studies conducted between 1929 and 1961 found that 60% of identical twins shared criminal behavior patterns (if one twin was criminal, so was the other), while only 30% of fraternal twins were similarly related (Mednick and Christiansen, 1971).

In another study of twins, Christiansen studied 3,586 male twin pairs and found a 52% concordance for identical pairs and 22% concordance for fraternal pairs (Christiansen, 1974). Similarly, D. Rowe and D.W. Osgood have analyzed the factors that influence self-reported delinquency in a sample of twin pairs and concluded that genetic influences actually have explanatory power (Rowe and Osgood, 1984).

Critics have argued that other reasons may account for the concordance. Compared to siblings, identical twins spend more time together, tend to have the same friend's, are more attached to each other and tend to think of themselves as alike. They are also more likely than other siblings or even fraternal twins to be treated the same by their parents, friends, and teachers. All those likenesses produce similar attitudes and behaviors among identical twins, including delinquency and crime (Dalgaard and Kringlen, 1976).

Adoption studies yield similar findings to twin studies. It would seem logical that if the behavior of adopted children is more similar to that of their biological parents than to that of their adoptive parents, the idea of a genetic basis for criminality would be supported. If, however, adoptees are more similar to their adoptive parents than their biological parents, an environmental basis for crime would seem more valid. Several studies indicate that some relationship exists between parents' behavior and the behavior of their children, even when their contact has been infrequent or nonexistent (Mednick and Christiansen, 1971).

One of the most significant adoption studies was conducted by Barry Hutchings and Sarnoff Mednick (1977), who analyzed 1,145 male adoptees born in Denmark between 1927 and 1941; of these, 185 had criminal records. After following up on 143 of the criminal adoptees and matching them with a control group of 143 noncriminal adoptees, Hutchings and Mednick found that the criminality of the biological father was a strong predictor of the child's criminal behavior. When both the biological and adoptive fathers were criminal, the probability that the youth would engage in criminal behavior greatly expanded. Twenty-five percent of the boys whose adoptive and biological fathers were criminals had been convicted of a criminal law violation compared with only 14% of those whose biological and adoptive father were not criminals (Hutchings and Mednick, 1995).

Hans Eysenck reviewed other twin studies, and found similar concordances, and concluded that the concordance was founded over four times as frequently in identical twins as in fraternal twins, a finding which seems to put beyond any doubt that heredity plays an extremely important part in the genesis of criminal behavior (Eyesenck, 1973).

A study by Dalgaard and Kringlen based upon a sample of 139 Norwegian male twins reported 41% proband concordance for DZ twins (Dalgaard and Kringlen, 1974). Self-reports of antisocial acts were ascertained from these subjects in adulthood, and significant heritabilities were noted for these reports of antisocial behavior (Grove et al. 1990).

About 3% of those whose parents had no convictions, 4% whose parents had one conviction, 5% whose parents had two convictions, and 9% whose parents had three convictions became chronic offenders. About 9% of the Danish male populations have been convicted of felonies. (Mednick et al. 1984). This means that even those adopted males whose parents had no convictions had a higher rate of conviction (13%) than the general population, suggesting an environmental effect of adoption itself. Furthermore, 375 (91%) of the 419 adopted males whose biological parents had three or more convictions did not become habitual offenders.

At the same time, 74 (3%) of the 2,492 boys whose parents had no convictions actually became habitual offenders. The total figures - 44 habitual offenders descending from parents who were habitual offenders versus 747 habitual offenders descending from parents who never had a brush with the law, suggest that genetics may be an unlikely answer to most crime.

The Danish studies showed a relationship between behaviors of children and their biological parents only with regard to property crime. There were too few violent crimes in Denmark to demonstrate any parent - child relationship for violent crime. It is somehow difficult to imagine "genes" for burglary, fraud, or insider stock trading. What the adoption studies may point to instead is a genetic contribution to temperament, rather than to specific behaviors. Basic underlying traits, such as risk-taking, risk-aversion, refusal to obey authority, shyness, boldness, etc. may be affected by a combination of many different genes.

These temperamental traits are neither good nor bad in themselves; refusal to obey authority, for example, may lead to invention, scientific innovation, or new artistic styles in a nurturing environment, or to crime in a poor environment (Bohman et al. 1982: Cloninger et al. 1982).

An additional study was performed more recently (Mednick, Gabrielli, and Hutchings, 1984) where family psychology vs. biological heredity in determining criminal behavior was examined. This study was done using identical twins that were adopted by two different families and raised apart from each other. It was observed that adopted children are as aggressive as their adoptive parents rather than their biological parents. The adopted boys, whose biological parents (usually fathers) had been convicted of crimes were more likely themselves to be convicted of crimes than were adopted boys whose biological parents had no trouble with the law. Neither the children nor their adoptive parents knew about the criminal records of the biological parents, so the children's actions did not result from parental expectations based on beliefs about inheritance. There was no relation between the criminal behavior of adopted boys and criminal behavior of their adoptive parents (Mednick et al. 1987).

The study of adoptions also clearly separates environmental from genetic influences; if adopted children with criminal biological parents were found to commit more crimes than those with criminal biological parents appropriate controls, this would suggest a genetic influence in antisocial behavior (Crowe, 1974). Crowe found just such a suggestion of genetic influence in an adoption study examining fifty-two offspring born to incarcerated female offenders. Ninety percent of the biological mothers were felons at the time of the adoptive placement, the most common offenses being forgery and passing bad checks. Twenty-five of the adoptees were female, and all were of Caucasian decent.

Another fifty-two adoptees with no evidence of criminal family background were selected as control groups and matched for sex, race and age at the time of adoption. For the follow-up phase of the study, Crowe selected thirty-seven indexes and thirty-seven control subjects who had by then reached age eighteen. Seven of the adoptees had arrest records: adults, all seven had at least one conviction, four had multiple arrests, two had multiple convictions, and three were felons. Crowe found a positive correlation between the tendency of the index group to be antisocial and two other variables: the child's age at the time of adoptive placement, and the length of time the child had spent in temporary care (orphanages and foster homes) prior to placement.

In a separate study, Cadoret (1985) compared the rates of alcoholism and antisocial personality in two groups of adoptees: those with antisocial biological family members, and those with alcoholic biologic family members. The authors reported that approximately one-third of the adoptees in each of these groups could be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (Cadoret et al. 1985).


Although biological factors are said to contribute to crime and delinquency, social factors are seen as providing the conditioning that leads to crime. Eysenck argues that permissive child-rearing practices result in underdeveloped consciences (Eysenck and Gudjonsson, 1989).

Wilson and Hernstein (1985) proposed another integrated theory, human nature theory. They contend that genetic make-up, intelligence, and body type have considerable impact on human behavior. Individuals' personalities are influenced by physical features that shape how they see themselves as well as how others see them (Wilson and Hernstein, 1985). According to Wilson and Hernstein (1985), human decision making is a product of the interactions of biological, psychological, and sociological influences.

Farrington (1988)… [END OF PREVIEW]

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