Why do people act meanly
Crime theories try to explain deviant and criminal behavior. Why do people become criminals: is it the genes, the chemistry in the brain, social factors, the prospect of material gain - or a little bit of everything? Anja Bruhn introduces the most important different explanatory approaches.
is a sociologist and works as a research assistant in the office of the Council for Social and Economic Data (RatSWD / German Data Forum). The social structure of Germany and social inequality are the focus of her academic research.
Police station in Berlin (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)
Biological Theories - Is Crime Innate?Biological crime theories refer primarily to biological processes and partly to the genetic make-up of a person. A few theories are in the light of the criminal anthropological school introduced by Cesare Lombroso, which focuses on the genetic disposition of criminogenic factors. This approach from 1876 was reinforced in the thesis of his pupil Enrico Ferri about the "delinquente nato", the person born to be a criminal who becomes criminal on the basis of his genetic code. Although this theory was clearly refuted just a few years later, the Nazis in Germany used it to justify their actions. Not least for this reason, biological theories received little attention in Germany after World War II. Nowadays, Lombroso's and Ferris approaches no longer play a role in science.
Instead, modern biological crime research has comprised several strands with different priorities since around 1970. In addition to genetic inheritance, biological research focuses heavily on biochemical and endocrine abnormalities as well as neuroscientific aspects. As an example, brain damage caused by illnesses, accidents or even food, which can bring about changes in the psyche towards criminogenic behavior, may be mentioned at this point.
All biologically oriented research strands have in common that they see physical characteristics as a predisposition, a disposition. This perspective leads to the realization that a predisposition does not necessarily have to have a criminogenic effect, but can be influenced by the environment.
Although predisposition is still seen as the main influencing factor, other environmental influences are at least of secondary importance. Such models, which consider biological as well as social influences, are called biosocial models. Despite the increasing influence of serious biological research on the part of forensic psychiatry and criminology, mainly biosocial models are being considered in Germany.
Comparative biological behavior research (ethology) compares human behavior with animal behavior and deals with the question of which parts of behavior is instinct-controlled (innate) or learned. The aim of this current is to gain an insight into the basic structures of human behavior. This approach also incorporates other framework conditions in an interdisciplinary way.
The social and behavioral crime theoriesThe common position of all social and behavioral theories is that they explain crime primarily through the framework conditions of the environment. Psychological and social psychological approaches primarily focus on the individual. Sociological approaches try to explain crime mainly by means of social conditions. Because of the numerous overlaps and interdependencies between theories, a clear delimitation is hardly possible, and there is no consensus on this in the relevant literature either.
The "classic" explanation - the myth "crime is worth it"The “classic” approach is the economics-borrowed theory of rational (choice) action, the Rational Choice (RC) theory: “Crime pays”. Accordingly, the perpetrator thinks about what he will get if he acts criminally and contrasts this with the possible “costs” (getting caught, a penalty, etc.). It is therefore assumed that the perpetrator is guided by common sense and acts to maximize benefits, draws up a cost-benefit analysis for criminal acts and then chooses whether criminal acts are worthwhile. The state, on the other hand, analyzes the cost-benefit ratio of fighting crime and aligns its approach accordingly. It is obvious that this rather one-sided approach does not explain the majority of criminal behavior. Therefore, representatives from psychology and sociology have specialized in deviant behavior and its explanation.
In the following, common approaches are presented on a topic-related basis. At this point we are dealing with theories that (can) explain only a part of criminal or deviant behavior. Theories that mainly focus on the individual are known as personality theories (1). If the social environment is included as an influencing factor, one often speaks of socialization theories (2). The social structure is almost inextricably linked with socialization (3). Socialization and social structure mutually influence each other.
Personality-related theories relate primarily to people as individuals. Early concepts were strongly influenced by science. This includes behavioral conditioning, which works similarly to Pavlov's (dog) experiments, as well as the empirically hardly tenable concept of the psycho- / sociopathic personality.
In addition to this approach, there are the psychodynamic approaches, of which Freud's psychoanalytic approach is probably the best known. The actions of an individual are understood as the result of certain undesirable developments in their life, with early childhood development in particular playing a major role. Another current within psychoanalysis deals with society and its collective psychological mechanisms.
With regard to a person's personality, the development of aggression and how it is dealt with is also important. Aggression theories take up this, but research on frustration and arousal is also reflected in it. In a variety of approaches, for example, learning psychological approaches are linked with theories of aggression: They address the behavior that individuals learn in terms of aggression, frustration and arousal.
However, since humans do not exist independently of their social environment, they are influenced by them and adapt. These extensive processes of social learning are known as socialization.
Learning theories occupy a central position among the socialization theories. Learning theories are approaches that assume that criminal behavior can be learned - just like any other behavior. Personality-related learning theories particularly emphasize conditioning and special behavioral mechanisms, while from the sociological point of view, the social and socio-structural framework conditions of socialization are discussed in particular.
The control theories, which are also known under the term hold and attachment theories, form a further field of theories. Depending on the scientific approach, they take more into account internal or external control. The internal control theories tie in with the (Freudian) psychoanalytic perspective and ask why people do not commit crimes and instead behave in a socially compliant manner. The external control is usually created by the social structure.
Social structure is to be understood as the general conditions of society, i.e. the social structure. Most of the socially oriented concepts relate to it. The anomie, in particular, plays a central role here. Anomie is a state of decreasing regulation of social relations, which leads to instability of social norms and values. As a result, people have to adapt to a changed social order. To do this, they develop different strategies, including criminal behavior. The anomie theories form the starting point for other approaches. This is how you experience an expansion in pressure theory: Pressure theories assume that the individual is exposed to social pressure or a social burden from the environment, which can lead to deviant behavior.
Similarly, theories of disintegration are based on anomie theories. With social disintegration it is meant that the otherwise usual informal social control (e.g. by fellow citizens) is canceled and values that favor criminality can spread. One variant of the disintegration theories is the ecological approach, according to which there is a connection between urban development (and urban decay) and crime. The culture (conflict) theories are in this spirit. They focus on different cultural norms of values and behavior that cannot be combined and therefore lead to conflicts. This theory is particularly popular with regard to migrants. But these theories also make their specific contribution to the explanation of criminal behavior in special subcultures that have their own rules, such as gangs. All the crime theories presented so far have one thing in common: They regard criminal behavior as a deviation from social norms. This is one of the limits of such theories. Because crime is always defined socially. Theories of criminalization - also called theories of interaction - take up this point of view.
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