Reasons for Criminal Behaviour

by Ivanabutler on February 27, 2013

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The reasons for criminal behaviour are not completely understood, but science and society continue to study and learn about why people commit crimes. The pendulum has swung widely through the centuries on this issue from the stance that committing crime is a matter of personal choice only to the idea that a person is absolutely predestined to commit or not commit crimes based on the genetics. Neither of these classical theories takes into account the environment in which the criminal was raised. Modern theory on why people commit crimes is based on the idea that no one cause predisposes behaviour; rather, it is impossible to distinguish how genes and environment act together on personal choice.

The blend of genes versus environment is generally known as the “nature vs. nurture” debate. The fact that personal choice is affected at all by the way in which a person was raised is still treated with suspicion by society and the court system. A good example of the derision focused on this theory are lyrics penned by Arthur Lorentz for the now-famous movie and musical West Side Story, in which gang members try to elicit sympathy from a police character by concocting wildly elaborate stories about their horrible circumstances as an explanation for their criminal behaviour. However, scientists have studied how factors such as poverty, bonding with parents, peer groups, and consistency of discipline techniques affect a child’s propensity to grow up to commit crime. Scientific thought now concludes that genes are the underpinning with an environmental overlay, interacting in a myriad of ways which increase the probability that a person will commit a crime.

Genetics are the framework of our personality and disposition to make certain choices. Certain neurochemicals such as monoamine oxidase (MAO), serotonin, and dopamine are controlled by genes, and have all been shown to affect impulse control and aggressive behaviour. Impulse control and aggressive behaviour in childhood directly correlate with how likely a person is to commit a crime in adulthood. Early criminologists were convinced that genetics were destiny and that people were born “good” or “bad,” and that certain people should not be allowed to reproduce. This led to inhumane treatment and forced sterilization. Society is now aware that genetics strongly influence behaviour, but whether or not our traits express to their fullest abilities depends on what influences us as we grow.

This influence as we grow is known as “socialization.” Childhood is a developmental period during which ideals of morality and values are formed. Babies are not born knowing right from wrong. As babies grow into children, they learn that when they perform certain actions a negative consequence happens and that when they perform certain other actions something positive happens. Children internalize these repeated happenings as values, and begin to distinguish right from wrong. If this positive and negative reinforcement is not applied consistently enough, moral obligations are not instilled, and the child is more likely to commit a crime in adulthood.

Although it is not possible to predict with certainty who will and who won’t commit a crime, both genetics and environment have their part to play as predictors. Genetics lay the framework for tendencies, and upbringing dampens or amplifies those tendencies. A good and experienced criminal lawyer can help you determine whether any of these factors could be a mitigating defense in a crime.




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