Criminal Behaviour

A* - G syllabus

  • Created by: Thunder12
  • Created on: 26-03-18 14:28

Key Concepts

Crime= a criminal act which breaks the law, intends to break the law

Problems with measuring crime-

  • Statistics count the number of criminal acts rather than the number of criminals
  • People may not be aware they are victims of crime
  • Victims do not always want to report crime for a number of reasons

Criminal personality= a collection of traits that make a person different from a “normal” law abiding person. Common characteristics a criminal personality include:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Lacking in feelings of guilt
  • Pleasure- seeking
  • Being over- optimistic
  • Self – importance
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Core Theory

Criminal personality and criminal behaviour is inherited, their DNA has programmed them to become a criminal.

  • Criminal behaviour is passed down through families in genes. If your parent is a criminal you have a higher chance of becoming a criminal.
  • As criminal behaviour is abnormal the biological theory argues that the brains of criminals are “abnormal” this is brain dysfunction.

Brain dysfunction is the idea  that a brain is not operating as normal brains do.  Areas of the brain seen to be dysfunctional are:

  • Pre frontal cortex= the area is under active in some criminals which means criminals can’t from an association between fear and anti-social behaviour leading to not fearing the consequences of their behaviour
  • Limbic system= criminals have increased activity in this area, this creates higher levels of aggression.  Research shows the amygdala dos not function normally in psychopaths can lead to crimes such as ****
  • Corpus callosum= less active in criminals therefore less communication between rational and irrational sides of the brain, leads to irrational crimes such as theft or mugging
  • Temporal Lobe= in criminals activity is slower in aggressive psychopaths, leads to slower learning from their actions

Genes could affect appearances(1800s). Facial features= features which make up the face e.g. forehead, eyes, mouth and chin. Facial features associated with criminal are: crooked nose, high cheekbones, strong jaw, asymetrical face etc.

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Criticisms of the Core Theory

  • There is not one criminal gene that accounts for all criminal behaviour
  • Brain dysfunction is not evident in all criminals, it could be cased later in life e.g. car crash
  • Criminals facial features are not supported be research- societies may be prejudiced against certain looks
  • Ignores influence of social environments and other people
  • Ignores we can learn our criminal behaviour through role models
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Alternative Theory

Social Learning Theory= we learn behaviours by observing and intimidating others. Individuals imitate their role models, these are people they admire and respect and want to be like.

Vicarious Reinforcement= when someone’s behaviour is reinforced ( strengthened) because they observe how another person is rewarded for the same behaviour. This means an individual is not directly reinforced themselves, but they see other being rewarded.

E.g. if a child watches their hero on TV getting praise for beating people up , they may try and fight people. If they get praise they will continue with their behaviour.

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Core Study (Mednick et al)

Hypothesis= study adopted people, if behaviour is behaviour is to do with nature they will be like biological parents whereas if behaviour is nurture, a person’s behaviour should be like their adoptive parents,

Procedure= adoption study in Denmark.Criminal records 14000 males born between 1924-47- compared records of biological parents and their adoptive parents


  • an adoptees are more likely to inherit their criminal tendencies from their biological parents than learn them from their adoptive parents
  • 20% adoptees had biological parents who committed crimes and not adopted parents who were criminals, whereas only 14.7% had adoptive parents who were convicted of crime and not biological parents
  • Strong link biological parents and their sons for property crimes


  • Nature has a stronger link to criminal behaviour than nurture.
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Criticisms of the Core Study (Mednick et al)


  • Sample biased as was all male, can not apply to females.
  • Also only conducted in Denmark so is culturally biased.


  • Study relied on records of criminal convictions that may have been unreliable- based on crimes being reported, some parents of adoptees may have committed crime and may not have been caught


  • Shows a stronger link for genetics, which means we can monitor “criminal families”


  • Contamination effect- although 90% adoptees in study were adopted before age of 2 but many spent early lives with their biological parents and therefore this could have influenced their development


  • Very few ethical problems as records kept confidential. Although no consent was gained from 14000 participants
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Biological theory argues that people are born criminal and therefore their behaviour can’t be changed.

BUT many societies follow the Social Learning Theory- that criminal behaviour is learnt and therefore can be changed

Applications= strategies to reduce crime, such as use of prisons, rehabilitation and crime prevention techniques

Crime prevention= e.g. early intervention programmes for young offenders to discourage criminal behaviour, through education or youth service, intervene early to stop children leaning bad behaviour and reinforcing positive behaviour.

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