Last Updated 07 Apr 2020

Causes of Criminal Behavior

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In today’s time, deviance and crime plaque American society. There are vast degrees of deviance, from a simple shoplifter, to a car thief, to a killing machine with no conscience, otherwise known as a serial killer. How is this killing machine created? Where and how does this type of criminal behavior begin? The answers to these questions must be addressed in order to stop the formation of deviance. While searching for these answers, the nature vs. nurture is brought up.

Scientist and psychologists have debated over whether a child’s upbringing forms their behavior or whether they are born with a personality disorder, or could it be their body type and brain set up? (Jones 1) Society may never truly know all the causes of this behavior but for now, they wrong upbringing can, without a doubt, increase the chances of violent behavior. It has been said for years that ones parents are the base to make someone the person they become as an adult. Parents are a young child’s role model, but as we grow older we start to have other influences in our lives.

People such as our friends, teachers, and other family members are considered to be part of our outside environment. In today’s time we are seeing less nuclear families and more single parent households. (Waggoner 30) Kimberly J. Waggoner did a study called, “The Project of Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods” which followed 80 young kids, till the age of 30, to see what kind of an impact their childhood had on them as an adult. She found that without two reliable role models, it can make a difference in that child’s behavior. Waggoner 30) She makes a great point that, “Grandmothers often play an important role in preventing children from developing antisocial behavior, especially those children born to teen mothers. In essence, children with access to extended family and other role models can thrive in a single- parent home. ” She also goes on to say, “Yet, some studies have found that boys raised by their birth mother and a stepfather are no better off than boys raised by mom alone. ” (Waggoner 30) The cause of this could be that the boys look at their stepfather as competitors, rather than role models, who normally help children develop their self-esteem.

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Boys need to have that male role model in their lives. Without a solid home environment, it could lead a child towards the first step to criminal behavior, which is delinquent behavior. It starts as young as preschool. The child shows aggressive behavior toward their peers, and is than deemed as an outcast. Most times, this creates poor peer relations and causes those children to b e with others who share similar behaviors; usually these relationships continue into adolescents and maybe even adulthood. Waggoner 28) A child’s environment and upbringing has a tremendous effect on who they become as an adult. “As an adult, we can choose the environment in which to live, and this will either positively or negatively reinforce our personality traits… However, children are limited to the extent of choosing their environment, which accounts for the greater influence of environmental factors in childhood behavior,” says Caitlin Jones, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Jones 4) Even though all these things can cause criminal behavior, they are not the only causes. Parents could be great and do almost everything right and still have a criminal child on their hands. It is a great question they may never be answered, what makes some people commit vindictive criminal acts, while others could not even kill a fly? We may never truly know the answer but, there are plenty of theories on the brain of a criminal.

An Italian psychiatrist by the name of Cesare Lombroso has done countless studies of the skulls of criminals and found, “… each type of crime is committed by men with a particular physiognomic characteristics, such as a lack of a bred or an abundance of hair…” (Rafter 69) In 1876 during an in depth study, Lombroso discovered most skulls of criminals were unusually small or malformed. Some of the skulls had a median occipital fossetta, and others had “monkeylike anomalies”. (Rafter 70) Criminals are said to look like everyone else, but there are little differences that to the normal person, go unnoticed.

So they really do not look a whole lot different than the rest of us, yet they are still thought to be “backward intellectually compared to an honest man. ”(Rafter 69) Another theory behind the criminal mind was brought up in the late 18th century by a German physician named Johann Gasper Spurzheim, and he came to what he thought, was an inescapable conclusion, “… on the basis of numerous examples I have identified the primary cause of homicide, overdevelopment of the organ of Destructiveness, which is the seat of both negative and useful forms of destruction…It is commonly larger in men than women. (Rafter 78) Crimes are committed everyday; there are so many theories on the causes of crime one could talk about them for days. I believe both Lombroso and Spurzheim had great points; criminals are considered to be backward, which causes them to be vain, vindictive, remorseless, and undeterrable. Than, Spurzheim, believing in his organ of Destructiveness. There is just one thing wrong with both of these theories; they leave out the women criminals. Men may be considered to be more physically violent than women but, they are just as capable as men at committing a violent act.

Take the case of Andre Yates: in 2001, she systematically drowned her five children in a bath tub. Andre married a man by the name of Rusty Yates in 1993, and than she became pregnant six times in seven years, one ended in a miscarriage. Rusty insisted that Yates home school and take full care of the children herself. This placed heavy burdens on her and isolated her from social support. In early 2001, Andre lost her father and was prescribed antipsychotic drugs, she had her last child and went into postpartum psychosis.

After drowning the children, Yates confessed she was not a good mother and was possessed by Satan. (Rafter 6) All the burdens of schooling, caring and cleaning up after five children can drive some mothers crazy. She could not handle all that stress than, after the trauma of losing her father, and having another baby, Andre Yates finally snapped. She is now incarcerated in a mental hospital. Cesare Lombroso also studied women criminals. He compared female offenders to their male counterparts and found “the few violent women exceed men in their ferocity and cruelty. (Rafter 71) Of course, there are far more crimes that are committed by men than women, yet women should not be eliminated from the world of crime. A criminal is a criminal, regardless of gender. Why do some offenders only commit one crime and others make a career out of it? A range of thoughts and theories exist. Some of those include: Kimberly Waggoner and all her ideas of childhood causes, outside environment, and our upbringing, Caitlin Jones and being able to choose our own environment as an adult to stop potential criminals.

Also important are those of Nicole Rafter and the criminal brain, along with Lombroso, on women criminals and their male counterparts. Criminal behavior has been the subject for debate for centuries and will continue to be for centuries to come because, “Criminals are remorseless, incapable of resisting impulse to harm others, and morally savage, but in other aspects normal. ” (Rafter 20) Hopefully, with all the knowledge we have and the studies yet to come, it will help to end the frustration that criminal justice psychiatrist experience while trying to fight crime, instead they will be able to understand, control and prevent crime.

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Causes of Criminal Behavior. (2018, Jan 27). Retrieved from

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