Criminal Behavior Theories Essay Sample

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This essay covers some of the most important aspects of criminal behavior theories and delves into the lesser, supporting theories pertaining. The assignment question/instructions were: In a 1-2 page well constructed essay, discuss the major differences between the various theories which are used to explain criminal behavior? What theory in your opinion best explains this? The answer to the last question is very hard to determine. I have likes and dislikes of each of the theories mentioned. Though the theories contradict in some ways, taking certain parts and points of each of the mother theories could be combined to provide another.

Criminal Behavior Theories
There are many different theories available to use when trying to explain criminal behavior. Why commit a crime? Why commit this crime? Why commit a crime this way? At this time? The explanation could be simple or complex, various or straight-forward. One of the most popular theories to explain criminal behavior is the “Rational Choice Theory”. This theory attempts to determine the who, what, when, where, how, and why of criminal behavior. Although the most popular theory, Rational Choice Theory is but one of many theories that seek to understand this. Each theory has certain concepts that are vital to supporting the theories’ ability and success. The subject of this paper is to determine and define the major differences in these various theories. Rational Choice Theory

This theory is based around the principle that an individual’s behaviors and choices are influenced by what he/she reasons is the “means and ends” or “cost and benefits” in regards to criminal activity. In short, the criminal activity that an individual chooses to act on, is a decision made based on the risk, consequences, and benefit to them. The development of this theory is identified with Italian social philosopher Cesare Beccaria, who lived from 1738 to 1794. A treatise by him called “On Crimes and Punishment” contained the basic beliefs and concepts that later formed this theory. Today, one of the basic concepts of rational choice is criminal behavior is the result of an individual’s thought and planning. Criminals choose to commit a crime after selecting targets, and showing their behavior to be systematic and selective. The individual commits the crime because he/she believes the benefits outweigh the risks.

Theorists of rational choice view crime as offense, and offender specific, meaning that a criminals’ thought process and rationalization of a criminal act will change depending on the characteristics of the crime. “Seductions of Crime” by sociologist Jack Katz was very influential in the study of criminal behavior. He introduces that there are immediate benefits to crimes that make committing the crime more attractive. For some, criminality is beneficial on a personal level. It can cause a person excitement with the act of not being caught, or can be a way to rebel or distract from emotional pain. Rational Choice Theory Concepts

Concepts mentioned in rational choice theory are numerous. Some of the basic ideas include crime granting power to an individual and thrill of the crime. Evaluation of punishment, risk, benefit, and immediacy of personal gain are the first. There is also knowledge and experience of the crime intended, and economic opportunity. With these concepts in mind, and more understanding of rational choice theory, methods of reduction or elimination of crime can be implemented, such as situational crime prevention, general deterrence, specific deterrence, and incapacitation. Trait Theory

The roots of this theory are based mostly on scientific methods and using those methods. Auguste Comte (1798-1857), a very influential sociologist, believed that progress in society could be measured by using scientific method and means. He believed societies could be grouped by the way they perceived the world. Later, his writing would become known as positivism. Positivism elements were knowledge acquired by guessing or belief was not true knowledge. Observation was the only way to verify what was knowledge and what was not. Data was not considered valid without obtaining it through the scientific method process.

This method seems to be a much more calculated approach. Trait theory was influenced by many other influential people, and their ideas. Biological criminology focused on restricting research to biological differences in criminals only, and sociobiology acknowledged the power of heredity and biology on behavior, but concluded that these factors influenced how social behaviors turned out. Trait theory is still based on biological factors being the reason for behaviors and actions. Biosocial Theory

This theory provides that the presence of genes and biological factors is relevant, but include that environmental, such as alcohol, drugs, and chemical contact by an individual is also relevant. It also includes the factors of social environment. It recognizes more factors of influence, building on trait theory. Arousal Theory

This theory provides that individuals have different levels of arousal affected by the nervous system, chemistry in the brain, and heart rythym. The basic idea of this theory is that certain actions, including the act of committing a crime, causes a “thrill” to some. They seek out the thrill and stimulation provided by these actions. Thus, a feeling that is positive, created by an action, will cause someone to seek out that feeling. Genetic Theory

Genetics being the sole influence that might make a person behave in a certain way is the explanation of this theory. A certain genetic configuration causes personality traits, and determines behaviors the individual will be likely to have. Attachment Theory

This theory uses psychology to suggest that criminal behavior is linked with a lack of a personal relationship or attachment as an infant. This lack of positive attachment to a motherly figure leads to psychological problems, such as antisocial behavior. Nature Theory

The idea of this theory is that criminal activity is based on IQ, whereas a low IQ means more of a possibility of criminal behavior. Social Structure Theories
Social and economic events and influences are the main element in criminal behavior. There are three theories supporting this. Social Disorganization
Theory is the effect of the conditions of the environment, like inability to progress, causing feelings of despair and antisocial behavior. Strain Theory is the strain of competing with other classes, causing the means of goals to change. Cultural Deviance Theory uses cultural transmission to continue conformity to created subcultures that have separate values than that of conventional society. Social Learning Theory

This theory indicates causes of crime is having intimate knowledge of aspects of crime. There are three popular forms. Differential Association Theory states that behavior of criminality is learned by association with criminal values, patterns, and attitudes. It does not explain how one individual can be exposed and learn these patterns, but does not get influenced by them. Differential Reinforcement Theory also explains that crime is learned, but combines the points of differential association theory and learning behavior psychologically. It combines theories included in trait theory, which deals with the psychological aspect, and reward and punishment, and the concepts of differential association theory. Neutralization Theory is also a learning theory. Subterranean culture and the individuals that follow values within are not always consistent. The theory suggests that criminals slip in between criminality and regular society, and their actions can even lead to the defense of law-abiding citizens.

Social Control Theory

Social control theory uses a different question, of why individuals obey the law, to identify and provide that all societies are potentially likely to violate the law. Conformity is the only reason they adhere. Social Reaction Theory

Labels and symbols and how people interpret them and react are influenced by, and include those interpretations in their own self-image.

Derek Cornish And Ronald Clarke (1985). Reasoning Criminal. Home Office at Christ’s College Retrieved from: (

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