Historical overview of crime causation

Antique philosophy


In 4th Century BC Aristotle offers a philosophical standpoint on crime causation. Aristotle stated that the crime is poverty related. He described the poverty as a mother of all revolutions and crimes.

Medieval philosophy

Francis Bacon

In 17th Century Francis Bacon stated that criminality will depend on social situations. He described his standpoint in this sentence: "Opportunity makes a thief." Bacon pointed out that human behavior will depend on situations.

French renaissance philosophy

In 18th century encyclopedists Voltaire and Rousseau introduce the concept of free will. Crime is the same as hedonistic behavior and failure to fulfill the social contract obligations.

Classical criminology


Classical theory of crime explains that crime is a product of believes that benefits of committing crimes are far greater. People opt in decisions making between two scenarios A and B. A scenario is:  a "crime isn't profitable because you will get caught" and B scenario presents certainty in decision making "that you will never get caught". Most of the criminals think they'll never get caught.
Main principles of classical school of criminology were:
1. Crime is a rational choice, and most people are capable to commit crimes.
2. People will commit a crime after they have compared potential costs and benefits of such actions.
3. Most of the people fear punishment, and the certainty, severity and speed of punishment will have a impact on the level of crime.
4. Punishment needs to fit a crime and individual differences of perpetrators shouldn't have a n influence on the punishment.
5. The criminal justice system needs to be predictable, while laws and punishments must be known to public.
Proportionality in criminology means that crime must fit a crime. The first model of proportionality in applying punishments was lex taliionis or law of retaliation.

Crime is a behavioral human characteristic and a choice.

Positivist criminology


Positivist school of criminology (Italian anthropological school of criminology) tried to fully explain the crime causation using determinism. Italian anthropological school of criminology uses biological determinism or evolutionary atavism. The atavism is an evolutionary remnant which can be found on 33 % of the people who have failed to socially and genetically evolve. They also kept some stigmata, which makes them identifiable. Some theorists claim that Lombroso never was a biological determinist. This is not true.

Crime is inherited and some people are born to be criminals.

Lombroso's study of criminology

Sociological school of criminology stated that crime is a result of multiple factors, which can be divided into biological, psychological and social factors. Today, the new criminology rejects eclectic or multi-factor theories (mixed theories), and tends to identify those factors instead of generalizing or claiming those factors aren't identifiable.

Crime is a result of social factors and conditions that affect human behavior.

 Social Darwinism

Herbert Spencer

Social Darwinism is a term first time utilized by the Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). Hebert Spencer was an English Victorian philosopher and a pseudo-sociologist who thought that Darwin's theory of evolution can be equally applied on the society. Otherwise, the most successful and wealthiest people are product of social evolution. They evolved through the process of natural selection and stood at a top of the society using superior intelligence and experience.

Criminals are people who are stupid enough to get caught.

Social Darwinism is a fraudulent theoretical construct fully debunked by the historian Richard Hofstadter.
Psychological theories of crime causation.

Psychology and crime causation

Psychological theories were quite popular at the turn of 20th century. Most popular psychological theory of crime causation was psychoanalytical theory. Psychoanalytical theory of crime causation was based on the notion that hidden unconscious motives affect human behavior.

Social learning theory

The theory was developed by A. Bandura in 1973 Bandura believed that aggressive behavior is largely learned, but effects of biological factors shouldn't be excluded. Social learning can be direct or indirect. Direct social learning is the result of positive or negative effects on behavior i.e. result of rewards or punishments. When applying punishment, excessive use of aggression should be avoided. Corporal punishments are extreme form of negative behavior, because child can develop a negative association between the punishment and his parents. Indirect social learning is based on a perception of other people's behavior as desirable or non-desirable.

Crime is a result of social learning.

Theory of frustration aggressiveness

 Frustration is one of the possible causes of crime. Frustration is a psychological state of discomfort due to the inability to achieve certain goals or find solutions for problems. Inability to graduate is often a source of frustration among juvenile delinquents. This theory has emerged in 1939 as a result of the work of John Dollard and his colleagues from Yale University. According to the theory, frustration always leads to aggression and every aggression is the result of frustration. Later research led to the conclusion that moderate frustration does not necessarily lead to aggression. In 1974 Harris conducted the experiment and found when someone is closer to achieving its goal an obstacle to his imaginary target causes more frustration.
Berkowitz believed that frustration creates a will to aggressively respond with anger, and that does not always result with aggressive behavior. An odd that aggression will occur as a result of frustration depends on a large number of specific conditions and circumstances.

Not every frustration will result with aggression nor every aggression will match legal description of crime or be reported as a crime to authorities. Frustration can be cause of crime.

Psychoanalytical theory

Psychoanalysts believe that man is a cannibalistic wild creature in its beginning, which will form in a mature and responsible person trough a process of socialization. Psychoanalytical theory can be applied in the sense that the process of socialization has a significant role in the formation of our conscience. Psychoanalytic theory also holds that people are not always aware of motives of their behavior. Motives are sometimes hidden in "Id" (subconsciousness) and are often related with conflicts from our childhood.
Crime can be caused by a lack of ability to control "Id".

Psychological theories are relative, difficult and almost impossible to test.

Sociology and crime causation

Theory of social anomie

Basic concept of social anomie is an enormous gap between the desires of the individual and its real capabilities to satisfy those desires. When an individual is the one who gives, or who carries out its social obligations in accordance with his social role, and the social environment does not give any feedback on his conduct this will result in the alienation of the individual. To the individuals it will not be clear why he is doing socially useful activities, when he knows he could opt for another model of behavior that is apparently easier and does not require any effort (e.g. it is easier to steal than to work). The process of social interaction is based on reciprocity of care, attention and trust. Both sides give something in the interaction, but also receive from the whole process of social interaction.

Social anomie also happens when old rules or values are no longer relevant and new values or rules are in direct conflict with old rules and values.

Differential association theory was a theory developed by E. Sutherland. In short terms, crime is a result of social learning by engaging in deviant behaviors by those with whom we socially interact.

Critical, Marxist and social radical theories of crime

Biological theories of crime causation

Some genetic theorists believed that chromosome aberrations may be the cause of crime. These theories stated that people with XYY chromosome syndrome or the so-called "macho men" (who have an extra Y chromosome) are predisposed to commit crimes. Research conducted in the Scottish prison found 3% of inmates who have XYY chromosomal aberration. Otherwise, such persons are present in the general population, with a share of 0.2%. These claims are completely unjustified and meaningless if we take into account the low proportion of such persons in the general population.
Another study on crime held that hormones have an important impact on the existence of aggression. Based on research conducted on animals it was found that elevated  levels of hormone in women and men affect the emergence of aggressive behavior. These studies mainly dealt with the influence of testosterone on aggressive behavior, and found that higher levels of testosterone affect the occurrence of aggressive behavior. Elevated testosterone levels will affect the increase in aggressive behavior, while subtracting testosterone levels will act to reduce aggressive behavior.
The studies that have dealt with studying the brain tried to relate the aggressiveness and some brain areas, and sought to establish the existence of brain center's that regulate aggression. They concluded that the temporal lobe and some sub-cortical brain areas are responsible for the regulation of aggressive behavior.
Experiments conducted on animals showed that stimulation of specific areas can affect the development of aggressive behavior, but also to condition the animals to complete obedience. In 1969 Delgado conducted experiments on animals using a radio receiver implanted in the brain to control the aggressiveness of animals stimulating their limbic system, i.e. the hypothalamus. Delgado found that regardless of cortical stimulation, the animal will behave depending on environmental conditions. Although the chemical processes can artificially induce and encourage the aggressive behavior, it is not clear what affects the hormone to stimulate the hypothalamus to act differently.
According to biological theories, punishment will not affect deterring the individual from the crime, because the person (criminal) has some inherited remnant, stigmata etc. Biological theories of crime causation were the first theories where scientific methodology was used.

Which theory of crime causation is more correct?

Theories are just hypothesis waiting to be debunked. Theories are far from a reality. Every crime is the unique story. Theories may be partially correct, but in reality they are product of a human tendency to generalize, to add attributes, to categorize or to label someone’s behavior. Otherwise, it is an effort made to understand something that we do not understand as well as the tendency to find some general meaning that can be equally applied on the same or similar cases.
Theories are result of process how we are taught to think, understand or to make something simple.