Chapter Five: Trait Theories

Auguste Comte (1798-1857)
Considered the founder of sociology, applied scientific methods to the study of society.
Three Types of Body Builds
Mesomorphs, Endomorphs, Ectomorphs
have well-developed muscles and an athletic appearance. They are active, aggressive, sometimes violent, and the most likely to become criminals.
have heavy builds and are slow moving. They are known for lethargic behavior, rendering them unlikely to commit violent crime and more willing to engage in less strenuous criminal activities such as fencing stolen property.
are tall, thin, and less social and more intellectual than the other types. These types are the least likely to commit crime.
Cesare Lombroso
His work is regarded as historical curiosity, not scientific fact. Strict biological determinism is no longer taken seriously.
Today, criminologists believe that environmental conditions interact with human traits and conditions to human behavior.
Biosocial Theory
Reflects the assumed link between physical and mental traits, the social environment, and behavior.
Stresses that biological and genetic conditions affect how social behaviors are learned and perceived. These perceptions, in turn, are linked to existing environmental structures. Sociobiologists view the gene as the ultimate unit of life that controls all human destiny.
The view that no serious considerations should be given to biological factors when attempting to understand human nature.
Edmund O. Wilson (1970s)
Sociobiology. The biological basis for crime emerged into the limelight.
Trait Theory
The study of sociobiology revived interest in finding a biological basis for crime and delinquency. If, as it suggests, biological makeup controls human behavior, it follows that it should also be responsible for determining whether a person chooses law-violating or conventional behavior.
Trait Theorists
Focus on basic human behavior and drives - attachment, aggression, violence, impulsivity - that are linked to antisocial behavior patterns. They also recognize that human traits may not alone produce criminality and that crime-producing interactions involve both personal traits - such as intelligence, personality, and chemical and genetic makeup - and environmental factors, such as family life, educational attainment, economic factors, and neighborhood conditions.
Not all humans are born with equal potential to learn and achieve, the combination of physical traits and the environment produces individual behavior patterns.
Two Subdivisions of Contemporary Trait Theories
1) Psychological functioning
2) Biological makeup
Although there is often overlap between these views (brain functioning may have a biological basis), each branch has its unique characteristics.
Biosocial Theory
Rather than viewing the criminal as a person whose behavior is controlled solely by conditions determined at birth, most biocriminologists believe that physical, environmental, and social conditions work in concert to produce human behavior.
Biochemical Conditions and Crime
Smoking and drinking; Exposure to chemicals and minerals; Diet and crime; Sugar intake; Glucose metabolism/hypoglycemia; Hormonal influence; How hormones influence behavior; Premenstrual syndrome; Allergies (cerebral allergies & neuroallergies); Environmental contaminants; Lead ingestion
Smoking and Drinking
Maternal alcohol abuse and/or smoking during gestation have long been linked to prenatal damage and subsequent antisocial behavior in adolescence. Early ingestion of alcohol will have a direct influence on behavior.
Exposure to Chemicals and Minerals
Research conducted over the past decade shows that an over- or undersupply of certain chemicals and minerals - including sodium, mercury, potassium, calcium, amino acids, monoamines, and peptides - can lead to depression, mania, cognitive problems, memory loss, and abnormal sexual activity. Research shows that excessive intake of certain metals such as iron and manganese may be linked to neurological dysfunctions such as intellectual impairment and ADHD.
Diet and Crime
Diet can have a long-term influence on behavior. Biocriminologists who believe in a diet-aggression association claim that in every segment in society there are violent, aggressive, and amoral people whose improper food, vitamin, and mineral intake may be responsible for their antisocial behavior.
Sugar Intake
While some research efforts allege a sugar-violence association, others suggest that many people who maintain diets high in sugar and carbohydrates are not violent or crime prone. In some cases, in fact, sugar in-take has been found to possibly reduce or curtail violent tendencies.
Glucose Metabolism/Hypoglycemia
Persistent abnormality in the way the brain metabolizes glucose can be linked to antisocial behaviors such as substance abuse. Hypoglycemia occurs when glucose in the blood falls below levels necessary for normal and efficient brain functioning. The brain is sensitive to the lack of blood sugar because it is the only organ that obtains its energy solely from the combustion of carbs. Symptoms include irritability; anxiety; depression; crying spells; headaches; and confusion.
Hormonal Influences
Abnormal levels of male sex hormones (androgen) produce aggressive behavior. Drugs that decrease testosterone levels are now being used to treat male sex offenders. The female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, have been administered to sex offenders to decrease their sexual potency.
Premenstrual Syndrome
The onset of the menstrual cycle triggers excessive amounts of the female sex hormones, which affect antisocial, aggressive behavior (PMS). A significant number of incarcerated females committed their crimes during the premenstrual phase.
Defined as unusual or excessive reactions of the body to foreign substances.
Cerebral allergies cause an excessive reaction in the brain, whereas neuroallergies affect the nervous system. These have both been linked to hyperactivity in children, a condition also linked to antisocial behavior.
Environmental Contaminants
Prolonged exposure to substances such as lead, copper, cadmium, mercury, chlorine, and nitrogen dioxide can cause sever illnesses or death; at more moderate levels, they have been linked to emotional and behavioral disorders.
Lead Ingestion
Lead ingestion is linked to aggressive behaviors on both a macro and on a micro case level.
Neurophysiological Conditions and Crime
The study of brain activity. Researchers believe neurological and physical abnormalities are acquired as early as the fetal or prenatal stage or through birth delivery trauma and that they control behavior throughout the life span.
Minimal Brain Dysfunction
One specific type, learning disability (LD), a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understand or using spoken or written languages. Dyslexia, aggressiveness, tantrums, hyperactivity are also forms of MBD. 60% of offenders have brain dysfunctions and 95% accuracy predicting recidivism of violent criminals.
Arousal Theory
For a variety of genetic and environmental reasons, some people's brains function differently in response to environmental stimuli.
Arousal Factors
- Brain chemistry: Some people have brains with many more nerve cells with receptor sites for neurotransmitters than others.
- Heart rate: People with low heartbeat rates are more likely to commit crime because they seek stimulation to increase their feelings of arousal to normal levels.
- Autonomic nervous system
Genetic Theory - Direct Association
Possessing a particular genetic structure/code makes a person prone to aggression, violence, and antisocial behavior.
Genetic Theory - Indirect Association
Possessing a particular genetic makeup is associated with behaviors, attitudes, and personality traits that are also linked to antisocial behavior.
Evolutionary Theory
The competition for scarce resources has influenced and shaped human species.
- Gender and Evolution
- Violence and Evolution
Genetic Theory
- Criminal traits and predispositions are inherited. The criminality of parents can predict the delinquency of children.
- Explains why only a small percentage of youth in high-crime areas become chronic offenders.
- Focuses on twin behavior, sibling behavior, and parent-child similarities.
Elements of Psychodynamic Theory (Freud)
1) Id - pleasure principle
2) Ego - reality principle
3) Superego (Conscience, Ego ideal)
Id (pleasure principle)
Unconscious biological drives; requires instant gratification.
Ego (reality principle)
Helps the personality refine the demands of the id; helps person adapt to conventions.
Superego (the conscience)
The moral aspect of personality.
Psychodynamic Theory
- The development of the unconscious personality early in childhood influences behavior for the rest of the person's life. Criminals have weak egos and damaged personalities.
- Explains the onset of crime and why crime and drug abuse cut across class lines.
- Focuses on mental disorders, personality development, and unconscious motivations and drives.
Attachment Theory
The ability to form attachments (emotionally bond to another person) has important lasting psychological implications that follow people across the life span.
- Mood disorders and crime
- Crime and mental illnesses (psychosis; schizophrenia)
- Linked to many people with a variety of antisocial behaviors, including sexual assault and child abuse.
Behavioral Theory
- People commit crime when they model their behavior after others they see being rewarded for similar acts. Behavior is reinforced by rewards and distinguished by punishment.
- Explains the role of significant others in the crime process; and shows how media can influence crime and violence.
- Focuses on media and violence & the effects of child abuse.
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)
A frequently administered personality test which has been used to distinguish deviants from non-deviant groups. This test has subscales designed measure many different personality traits, including psychopathic deviation, schizophrenia and hypomania.
California Personality Inventory (CPI)
Another test to distinguish deviants from non-deviant groups.
Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ)
This test allows researchers to assess such personality traits as control, aggression, alienation and well-being. Evaluations using this scale indicate that adolescent offenders who are crime prone maintain "negative emotionally," a tendency to experience aversive effective states, such as anger, anxiety or irritability.
Nature Theory
Argues that intelligence is largely determined genetically, that ancestry determines IQ, and that low intelligence, as demonstrated by low IQ, is linked to criminal behavior.
Nurture Theory
States that intelligence must be viewed as partly biological but primarily sociological. Because intelligence is not inherited, low IQ parents do not necessarily produce low IQ children.
Primary Prevention Programs
Seek to treat personal problems before they manifest themselves as crime.
Secondary Prevention Programs
Provide treatment to youths and adults who are at risk for law violation.
Tertiary Prevention Programs
May be a requirement of a probation order, part of a diversionary sentence, or aftercare.