Explanations of delinquency based on biological factors are among the first theories in criminology. Advances in medicine, particularly in the 1800s, led to the underlying assumption of early theorists that if the individual’s biological makeup dictated his physical capabilities, these characteristics could also contribute to the type of behavior exhibited by the person.
Leonardo DiCaprio in a Teenager’s Diary (1995)
The biological explanations at the beginning focused heavily on the offenders’ observable physical characteristics. The basic argument was that offenders could be identified by their appearance, as thought by Sheldon (1949) and Cesare Lombroso, who is considered the father of modern criminology. But somatotype studies have several methodological problems. Based on these problems, theories that relate physical type to delinquent behavior have fallen into disuse.
Read: Cesare Lombroso’s Theory of the Criminal Born
- A fundamental difference in the psychopaths’ brains
- Polluted air can pollute our morals
- What is Moral Disengagement?
- How did the Emergence of Prisons occur?
Genetic inheritance studies
Biological explanations often assume a strong genetic contribution to behavior. The fact that physical characteristics are clearly passed on from generation to generation has led some to extend that same propensity to non-physical factors, such as behavioral trends. Two basic methods to inspect this possibility are to compare the behavior of twins and to compare the behavior of the children with the behavior of their biological parents. In both sets of studies, it is not criminal behavior that is considered to be inherited. On the contrary, factors such as low self-control, the search for strong feelings and temperament are inherited, and can lead to criminality (Eysenck and Gudjonsson, 1989; Mednick and Christiansen, 1977; Rowe, 2002).
To date, theorists have not provided strong support for their genetic arguments. This is not to say that genetics have no influence on behavior. Genetic research is still in its infancy, and future advances may reveal contributions to a wide range of behaviors. However, the problem of separating environmental influences from genetic components will remain a serious concern.
The recent trend in the search for biological explanations of behavior involves biosocial approaches, which refer to the idea that the biological composition of the organism and the environment are closely related. Biosociology sees behavioral deviations occurring when certain biological conditions coincide with certain sociological and environmental factors.
For example, an individual with a congenital hormonal deficiency can be overly aggressive in situations where he is forced to make a choice between fighting or fleeing. This individual, however, does not seek out such situations or becomes aggressive without external stimulus. Modern biological explanations of behavior for juvenile delinquency, therefore, accommodate both biological and sociological factors.