Three Theories of Crime Causation

Purdue University Global


Crime is not something that is a new occurrence: Crime has been occurring for millennia, and the search for a cause for crime has been occurring for as long as crime has existed. Crime is an act that goes against current laws and can be considered against society’s norms. The search for the cause of criminal behaviors is criminology.

There are a lot of theories behind crime causation, but many of them fall under one of the main theories of crime, three of which I will discuss in this paper: Biological, sociological and psychological. Each theory has many other theories which lie beneath their purview, but they all rely on similar characteristics as per the theory.

Biological theories, for example, revolves around genetic inheritances from ancestors, chemical imbalances and prior exposure to substances before birth. Sociological theories revolve around the premise that criminal behaviors are influenced by peers, family, the environment and exposure to violence and/or criminal behavior on a daily basis. Psychological theories revolve around the premise that criminal behaviors are caused due to underlying psychological issues such as psychopathy or other personality disorders .

Biological theories, as stated previously, lean heavily on the premise that crime is caused due to either genetic traits, evolutionary inheritance, biochemical conditions or physiological conditions. The belief with biological theories is that each individual is unique, that the traits within them can help to mold and shape that individual and determine how that individual is able to learn and be able to achieve their goals. Of course, contemporary biological theories tend to intertwine with sociological theories, such as trying to explain how genetic inheritance traits combined with the environment that the individual finds themselves immersed within can cause them to learn and how to react to that stimuli, as well as how they grow to achieve any personal and/or financial goals that they have set for themselves .

There are some criminologists who believe that the chemicals within the human body can help to explain criminal behaviors: For instance, if the chemicals within the body are out of balance, then the individual can become agitated or even violent. This has been shown to happen particularly with diabetics whose blood sugar drops dramatically: The individual can become upset and combative, and it is not uncommon for a diabetic to experience drastic mood swings throughout the day if their condition is not managed and controlled .

Sociological theories of crime are those theories that rely upon socialization as the underlying cause of criminal behaviors. Basically, theorists believe that there is a direct correlation between the behaviors of an individual and the environment in which they find themselves on a daily basis. The thought process is that, if an individual’s family members, peer groups or surrounding neighbors are involved in criminal behaviors, then the individual becomes accustomed to such behaviors, and may even start to exhibit the behaviors, themselves .

Behaviors are also believed to be caused due to, not only the environment with which the individual finds themselves in, but also because of the theory of anomie. Anomie is a theory which states that an individual becomes disenchanted with their life as it is as they are unable to achieve their dreams. This disenchantment happens when conventional means of achieving those goals, i.e. education and hard work, are either unavailable to that individual or are not enough to achieve the goals. Once this disenchantment occurs, the individual can turn to other means of achieving their goals such as drug dealing or prostitution. This can then lead to further criminal behaviors with which can become part of their everyday lives .

Psychological theories of crime rely heavily on the mind. This set of theories looks at individuals, their personality traits, their views on criminal behaviors and any mental illnesses that the individual may have. Anti-social personality disorder and psychopathy are two of the main similarities behind all of the theories that fall under the purview of psychological theories.

Anti-social personality disorder, also sometimes known as sociopathology, is characterized as an individual who shows no regard for people or the law. These individuals are known to manipulate, antagonize and/or treat people with indifference. There is no regard shown for personal boundaries, nor for social norms and whether an act that they commit is wrong. This disorder is commonly mistaken for psychopathy, and while psychopathy does share a lot of the same traits, the majority of individuals who have anti-social personality disorder are not psychopaths .

Psychopathy, as previously stated, does share a lot of the same traits as anti-social personality disorder. They are manipulative, charming, can be antagonistic, indifferent to people and the law, a lack of remorse or guilt for their actions, they do not accept responsibility for their actions and they even believe that they are above others. Ted Bundy is a famous example of a textbook psychopath and he reveled in the spotlight that was shone upon him during his trial. His belief in his intelligence being above that of the prosecutor’s and the jury was his downfall, and his grandiose displays during his trial also led to his conviction . Psychopaths are not always criminals or serial killers such as Bundy, but they do exhibit behaviors that are different from social norms on a daily basis.

In the end, I do not believe that one theory can explain the causation of crime, but if you were to mix any of the theories together depending upon the crime, then you will have the answer to why that crime happened. It is all a matter of circumstances and causes in the makeup of the individual. If you take a look at John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown, he killed 33 young men and boys during the 1970s. In his case, I believe that it was because he had a need to please his father, which led to him suppressing what he was (a homosexual), which then led to a downward spiral. He became so used to hiding his proclivities that he would do whatever he could to hide he preferences from everyone, which led to him silencing his victims forever. In his case, it was a need for acceptance, a desire to conform to social norms, sadism and a need to silence his victims so that he could be viewed as a benevolent family man that led to his acts of murder.

There also lies the fact that crime changes over time: What is criminal now may not have been a crime 100 year ago. The opposite may also be true, and that what is not a crime now may become a crime in another century. Perspective and human sensitivities can lead to what is known as crime and the study of criminology. It will be interesting to see what changes will take place in the next couple of decades.