Unit 2.1 Criminal Behaviour

key terms

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

Problems with measuring crime-

  1. Statistics count the number of criminal acts rather than the number of criminals
  2. People may not be aware they are victims of crime
  3. 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

core theory

Nature ( biological) vs nurture ( social learning theory) debate

Heritability= the proportion of behaviour that is due to genetic factors

Biological 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.


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

  1. 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
  2. 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 rape
  3. 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
  4. 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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crits of core

  • 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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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.

core study

Mednick et al ( 1984)- 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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crits of core study

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

R: 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

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

V: 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

E: Very few ethical problems as records kept confidential, although no consent was gained from the 14,000 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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