Before the late 19th century, criminologists focused on biological causes of the crimes in order to solve and prevent them. However, the biological techniques were opposed in the late 19th and 20th century because many of the strategies involved propagated eugenics proposals that are considered strongly unethical and immoral. However, in contemporary studies, biologically oriented techniques of studying criminology have emerged, because contrary to before, now the biological factors are studied in combination with the social context. Essentially, biosocial criminology can help in understanding criminal behavior because it enables criminologists to link the biological/psychological factors of a person with his/her surrounding environment, which enables them to understand how the biological/psychological makeup could influence crime.
Biology vs. Environment
For the longest time, human behaviors have only been characterized by environmental factors, i.e. peers, parenting, education and economic factors. However, human beings are as much part of the nature as other living beings, and thus are subjected to the same biological, genetic and evolutionary processes that affect everything else. However, that does not mean that our behavior is solely dependent on biological factors. Research shows that humans are complex beings and their behaviors are affected by both biological makeup and social interactions.
Contemporary biosocial criminologists analyze the personality traits of criminals both on the basis of their biological/genetic processes and social interactions. Biological factors may also explain why individuals respond to different environments in different ways. Human behavior is very complex, and therefore, in their research, biosocial criminologists analyze how the biological/psychological traits of individuals corresponded to the surrounding environmental factors that impact criminal behavior. This biosocial interaction is commonly called gene-environment interplay and contains two subtypes: “gene X environmental interactions” and “gene environment correlations”. In examining how genes and environment interact to produce differences in behaviors across groups of peoples, biosocial criminologists highlight the complexity of human development and work to identify the roots of criminal behavior.
Among other individual characteristics, biosocial criminology has illustrated how cognitive deficits and impulse control has been associated with criminal behavior throughout the life course. While these factors have been studied by researchers in traditional criminology, sociology, and psychology, biosocial criminologists have illustrated how biological and social factors combine to influence differential involvement in antisocial behavior across different groups of people. The following sections briefly outline how these traits are linked to criminal behavior and how biosocial criminology helps us understand their causal structures.
One of the major causes of criminal behavior relates to cognitive deficits in childhood, many of which are usually made worse because of inadequate support and social conditions. Cognitive deficits are usually associated with an inability or difficulty in organizing, paying attention, and planning. Because of this, individuals with cognitive deficits have difficulty in conforming to social norms, adjusting to societal expectations, and succeeding in education, all of which may later lead to development of criminal behavior. Thus, biosocial criminologists employ a variety of methods to measure cognitive deficits in individuals. Additionally, researchers in biosocial criminology examine the various factors which impact differences in cognitive abilities across individuals. Biosocial criminology has illustrated how factors such as genetics, neuronal functioning, and negative social environments impact the development of cognitive deficits.
Impulsivity and negative emotionality are generally thought of as personality traits. However, research has shown that there are biosocial underpinnings for impulsivity. For example, a recent study was conducted to find the biological and environmental reasons people differ in terms of impulse control and included a meta-analysis of twin, family, and adoption studies to estimate the magnitude of genetic and environmental influences on impulsivity. The study found impulsivity, which is one of the most important traits in the development of criminality, is not associated with just one factor, but is characterized by complex biosocial makeup. This and other studies have illustrated that impulse control, much like any human phenotype, is influenced by both social and biological factors. Therefore, biosocial criminologists keep in account both biological and sociological factors to identify behavior that may lead to criminal behavior.
Although there are a number of factors that contribute to crime, biosocial behaviors have helped criminal justice professionals link biological components with the surrounding environment and/or social climate. These connections are often able to provide information on the source or cause of a crime. Criminal justice professionals can then use this information to identify and prevent potential crimes, both now and in the future.
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Beaver, K., 2009. Biosocial criminology: A primer. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, s.l.: s.n.
Bezdijan, S., 2011. Genetic and environmental influences on impulsivity: A meta-analysis of twin, family and adoption studies, s.l.: s.n.
Wright, J. P., 2009. Biosocial Criminology; Criminals in the making: Criminality across the life course, Los Angeles: s.n.