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Criminological Theory


What factors contribute to a person becoming a criminal?

Biological Theories

Are babies born killers? The “Twin Studies” supported this theory, showing how a heritable trait may increase the risk for criminal behavior. In this study, the identical twins (MZ) and the fraternal twins (DZ) were tested to see how genetic and environmental influences impact one’s behavior. Before we can discuss the Twin Studies though, let’s consider the biological theory as a whole. “Biological factors are more inclusive, consisting of physiological, biochemical, neurological, and genetic factors” (Encyclopedia, 2017). In a sense, this is entirely different than genetics, but it is similar in that the traits are inherited. Compared to social factors, a person is born with these traits. Similar to the way we inherit our eye and hair color, we also inherit things such as blood types and illnesses, which can all go undetected.

Back to the Twin Studies: this study showed that biological makeup and different social factors can increase twins’ the risks of a person getting involved in criminal behavior. It is not a coincidence that a child born from parents with addiction issues will most likely develop addictions themselves. Addictive behaviors can be inherited. That being said, the child is not guaranteed to inherit all traits from their parents; the child may or may not develop these traits depending on social factors. “Perhaps a genetic predisposition toward violence may exist in the presence of some other unidentified mediator” (Encyclopedia, 2017).

Sociological Theories

Will living in a neighborhood full of criminals and crime cause a person to commit a crime? The sociological theories focus on the strain, social learning and control of an individual in a social setting. These sub-categories which support sociological theories are somewhat different from each other, but focus on how and why the social environment causes crime.

The strain theory explains that when a person experiences strain or stress, they become upset and engage in crime as a result. The reason for the person to engage in crime in these situation is that they might want to reduce the feeling they get at that moment by escaping or by “eliminating” the source. In simpler terms, when the situation or the environment a person is in is causing them to feel something negative, they will commit a crime. In the strain theory, it also explains that the two strains that contribute to crime are: “1. Others preventing you from achieving your goals, and 2. Others taking things you value or present you with negative or noxious stimuli” (Encyclopedia, 2017). For example, if a man tries to succeed in a job, but keeps failing to do so, he might engage in criminal activity such as cheating and harming co-workers to succeed and excel in the workplace.

The social learning theory explains how a person learns to engage in crime naturally by being around with people who are involved in criminal activities. This theory is more geared towards juveniles since juveniles conform their behavior to fit the crowd they are in more often than adults. When juveniles are around “bad” crowds, they learn and adapt the ways of the people within the “bad” crowds which causes them to be more easily open to engaging in crime.

The control theory explains how social factors influence a person in different angles than strain and social learning theory. This theory asks why people conform to the society rather than why people engage in crime. The control theory explains that people have a need to be accepted by others. This can be easily obtained through crime. For example, a man needs money, but he doesn’t have the resources to obtain said money. It would be easier (in a sense) to steal than to work for it. The control theory argues that people commit crime because they want to, not because there were restraints and controls put on them.

Psychological Theories

“It is hard to specify distinctively psychological theories of crime. The guiding principle in this entry is that psychological theories focus especially on the influence of individual and family factors on offending” (Encyclopedia, 2017). The psychological theory mainly focuses on the person’s developmental process and the person’s transition from childhood to adulthood. It explains that people are naturally hedonistic and selfish. Humans naturally seek pleasure and avoids pain.

Broken Homes and Attachment Theories

Psychologists studied the loving relationship and attachment a child develops with their parents. It showed that those who had a healthy, loving relationship and attachment with their parents while growing up developed healthier in psychological aspects. Therefore they have better relationships with others and better social lives than a person who did not develop this attachment. Inter-generational transmission theories also explain how the antisocial parents tends to have delinquent and antisocial children. While growing up, a child develops antisocial behavior by learning from their parents behaviors; this affects the children as adults as well.


It is difficult to disprove or prove that one theory is the only cause of crime. One thing, however, is for certain: biological, sociological and psychological theories all relate to one another. One theory might seem more fitting in a situation, but lose to another in a different environment. The theories are not always applicable, but are all present within the world of criminology.


Encyclopedia. (2017). Crime Causation: Biological Theories. Retrieved from: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/legal-and-political-magazines/crime-causation-biological-theories

Encyclopedia. (2017). Crime Causation: Psychological Theories. Retrieved from: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/legal-and-political-magazines/crime-causation-psychological-theories

Encyclopedia. (2017). Crime Causation: Sociological Theories. Retrieved from: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/legal-and-political-magazines/crime-causation-sociological-theories





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