Criminals -- Born or Made Since the Essay

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Criminals -- Born or Made

Since the construction of the first civil society, behavioral rules distinguishing what is acceptable and what is criminal have existed. Even though individuals typically have a concept of conventional moral behavior, criminal conduct is represented in every society and culture. Criminal deviance is not a novel construct, and has long been the intrigue of researchers, philosophers, and theorists to determine criminal motivation and link the relationship between individuals and the execution of criminal acts. One central argument that has evolved in the realm of criminality is the nature vs. nurture debate, which questions if criminals are born or made. Biological, psychological, and sociological disciplines each offer theories into the origin of criminality to explain if criminal behavior is a consequence of genetics or a matter of the environment in which they are raised (Jones). The biologist introduces genetic evidence and explains the effects of varying biochemistry; the psychologist applies personality and behavioral theories, and the sociologist describes the influence of social interaction, social context, and often explores the social learning theory. Several theorists also contribute such environmental factors as family and media influences as impacts on moral development, ultimately contributing to criminality. Two theories aiming to define psychological causes of criminality are the Personality and Attachment theories. The personality theory as described by Hans Eysenck, attempts to psychologically bridge genetic and environmental forces as factors for criminality. The attachment theory, presented by psychologists John Bowlby, signifies the importance of infants developing a healthy relationship with their primary caregiver to attain healthy social and emotional processes (Helfgott 233). In the nature vs. nurture debate, the biological elements cannot be ignored when considering criminality, however the environmental influences hold adequate responsibility for the production of criminals in society.

The presence of criminal behavior is not new to any existing society, and researchers have long argued the root of criminality within the nature vs. nurture debate. The "nature" side of the argument suggests that criminal behavior is genetically inherited between a parent and their offspring. The question of nature was first introduced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the notion of genetics was better understood (Jones). From this biological perspective, criminality is passed through the generations in the same fashion as some psychological illnesses. The concept that criminal behavior is genetically linked raises several questions and uncertainties. For example, if the nature debate is true, how can a society lower crime rates? The question suggests that the amount of criminals in a society can decrease if reproductive capabilities are limited for individuals who suffer from psychological illness, and exude criminal behavior. Over recent decades, twin, adoption, and family studies have been conducted to examine the role of genetics in antisocial and criminal behavior. Adoption studies appear to be the most critical, as they analyze the presence of criminal behavior in children whose biological parents have criminal history but were raised in an adoptive home. Several studies showed that children who were birthed by incarcerated females, and then adopted by a non-relative family, showed greater incidence of criminal behavior in adulthood (Jones). The research made into the genetic contribution of criminality as viewed in adoptive cases is enough to acknowledge the nature component of the debate as a partial source of criminal behavior.

Additional biological components researchers believe to be contributors to criminality are blood chemistry, hormone levels, and brain function. Blood chemistry, hormones, and the action of neurotransmitters also play a vital role in mood, behavior and performance (Helfgott 53-58). Lower levels of the serotonin neurotransmitter have been linked to violent behavior, as well as personality traits of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder (Jones). Varying levels of dopamine are linked to the abuse of drugs and alcohol, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and aggression (Jones). Activity levels of the monoamine oxidase enzyme have also been related to antisocial behavior, more precisely it can lead to impulsivity and aggression (Jones). The mentioned impacts of neurochemicals, enzymes, and biochemistry have a notable influence on biological shaping of personality and resultant behaviors. The role of biology and its influence on behavior cannot be negated as a factor in the origin of criminality. Genetic information and biochemistry of the body are attributed to a variety of physical and mental traits, and the committing of critical acts has a place in biological understanding.

The "nurture" argument of the debate explains criminal behavior as a result of the environment in which one is raised. Many researchers agree that environmental components such as family, peers, and community impact the development of personality, and ultimately influence criminal behavior. One of the most influential of these components is the family unit, and is one of the most studied factors linking environmental influence and criminality. The family structure is the smallest subunit in any culture, and can be observed from the viewpoints of several research disciplines, including economical, psychological, and social impacts (Akers, and Sellers). Risk factors stemming from familial circumstances involve: low socioeconomic status/poverty, antisocial parents, harsh, lax, or inconsistent discipline, abusive parents, neglect, and poor parent-child relationship (Jones). The family environment provides an opportunity to nurture structure and moral balance, and is a platform for social interaction. The exchange within a family has the power to significantly impact the behaviors of children, who can eventually become juvenile or adult offenders. Poor communication and weak bonds within a family have been shown in association with aggressive and criminal behavior (Jones). Peer groups are also regarded as having significant influence on the development of criminality. Risk factors originating from the peer group include having weak social ties, having antisocial or delinquent peers, and gang membership (Sampson, and Laub 100).

Psychological and sociological theorists account for the majority of the nurture argument to explain the relation between one's environment and development of criminal behavior. Historically, psychoanalytic theorists relate criminal behavior to mental disturbance. For example, a Freudian perspective would have attributed a conflict between the id, ego, and superego as a causal complex for criminality (Akers, and Sellers 16). Personality theorists regard criminal behavior as a consequence of improper or defective personality traits, where the criminal has developed a personality founded on thoughts of conflict, impulsiveness, and aggression (Akers, and Sellers 16). The sociologist viewpoint generally studies the role of individuals within a society, and consequently the effect society has on its individuals. The social component of every day life has a profound influence on how individuals interact and react as members of society.

The social learning theory is a sociological construct that explains how children learn behaviors: Children learn behaviors by observing behaviors of others (Jones). The socially learned behavior model demonstrates how children will mimic behaviors, positive or negative, as portrayed by the adult in which they are closest to, their friends, and behavior observed from film and television (Jones; Akers, and Sellers 19). For example, if a child observes violent behavior in the home and this behavior is deemed acceptable, then the child learns violence is proper behavior. The social learning theory is a critical point made in favor of the nurture debate as it describes how substantially social environments shape behavior. In recent decades, the influence of the media on criminal behavior and juvenile delinquency has become increasingly scrutinized. The overwhelming presence of violent television shows, films, video games, and music are providing behavior models in which children can try to imitate. The effects of children witnessing violence in the media has the potential for mild to severe displays of aggression, and increases risk of criminal behavior in adulthood, especially if a child receives long-term exposure to violence beginning at an early age (Anderson et al. 81).

To embellish on the personality theory, Eysenck describes personality as a vital piece to negotiating between genetic and environmental forces as causes of criminal behavior. Eysenck acknowledges that sociologists blame criminality on social factors, such as unemployment or poverty, while psychologists are separately blaming personality and intelligence factors (Eysenck 40). Although a psychologist, Eysenck admits that each perspective offers valid insights into the causes of criminality, and one set of theories cannot continue to ignore the other set of theories. Neither social conditions nor psychological differences can be dismissed from the root of criminal behavior as some people commit crime and others do not, despite sharing overlapping characteristics with criminal profiles. As Eysenck supports the nurture argument, he also supports the contribution of nature, and biology, to one's resultant personality. Eysenck believes that most of the variance for individual differences in personality is due to genetic causes, however DNA cannot directly influence behavior, just as social conditions such as poverty cannot control one's behavior (Eysenck 41).

Eysenck defines three major dimensions of personality: psychoticism, extraversion, and neuroticism. Psychoticism refers to a personality pattern characterized by aggressiveness and personal hostility. Extraversion is a component of personality that includes impulsiveness, sociability, and excitability. Neuroticism encompasses an individual's tendency to experience negative emotional states, such as anxiety, depression, anger, and guilt (Eysenck 42-44). The relationship between the three…[continue]

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