Biosocial Theory of Crime Explained


When considering a person’s specific behaviors, there are several different approaches that are used to examine the process, from start to finish. The biosocial theory of crime looks at the interaction of biological and social factors that lead a person toward criminal behavior.

For this theory of crime to be plausible, it must make a few simple assumptions about humanity.

  1. Humans are part of the natural world, just like any other plant or animal, which means humanity is subject to the same biological, genetic, and evolutionary processes as everything else.
  2. That evolutionary process can be modified by outside influences that change behavioral patterns, such as the threat of incarceration.
  3. Excessive punishment for behaviors that fall outside of the societal norm are equally influential to the evolutionary process.
  4. The psychological mechanisms used to distinguish between an overall moral “right” or “wrong” were developed in the ancient world as a means of reducing exploitative behaviors.

Humanity has a complexity that is unique to this world, and until we know otherwise, this universe. Our social, biological, and genetic processes influence the rest of the world as we know it today. The biosocial theory of crime looks at the genetics and biology of why people make certain choices instead of ignoring the fact that humans are still biological creatures.

What Could Cause Behavioral Changes that Lead to Crime?

When examining the history of serial killers, there is a unique piece of common ground that many of them share. Several serial killers sustained a serious head injury as a child. The trauma caused by the injury often created a lack of empathy for others. Some resulted in personality changes. Some were abused by their parents and others experienced a freak accident.

Richard Ramirez, or the Night Stalker, is an example of the latter. He received a head injury as a child when a dresser fell on him. By the age of 5, he’d received another major head trauma when a swing at a park struck him in the head.

In the biosocial theory of crime, anything that changes physically or biologically within a person creates the potential for conduct that society deems to be exploitive. It doesn’t need to be a traumatic injury for these behavioral preferences to form. Here are some common biosocial influences that can lead to criminal behavior.

  • Nutritional Deficiencies. People require a minimum level of nutrition, through vitamins and minerals, for proper brain development. It is especially important to receive this nutrition before the age of 5. Without it, the risks of criminal behavior increase. At the same time, improving diet quality may improve mental functioning, which reduces criminal risk.
  • Hormonal Influence. Certain hormone levels and neurotransmitters may also increase the risks of criminal conduct being preferred. James Wilson argues that androgen exposure is one possible explanation as to why men are more likely to commit a crime when compared to women. Steroid or testosterone use may also lead to increased risks.
  • Histamine Levels. If someone is allergic to a specific substance, the histamine levels rise within the bodies. Some allergic reactions affect the central nervous system. There may be links between allergies and depression, along with hyperactivity. These factors can lead someone toward aggressive tendencies and violence.

Many of these influences are present from birth. Some are even present during fetal development, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or FAS. Children diagnosed with FAS have developmental delays, violent deviant behavior, and several cognitive problems that may include a lack of impulse control.

Can We Identify Biosocial Criminology Risks?

Every person is a little different. Some people can eat sugar and it has a calming effect that reduces aggression. For others, a high sugar diet may encourage violent conduct. A 1983 experiment by Schoenthaler and Dorazs showed that a reduction of sweet drinks and foods reduced a 45% decline in institutional violence.

There are some biosocial factors, however, that can be identified, but not treated. Certain genetics, birth defects, and physical conditions may increase the risks of criminal thinking that fall outside of environmental conditions or contaminants.

Someone who is sensitive to certain food dyes or artificial coloring may be able to improve their biosocial thinking by limiting their exposure to those items. A person born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, even when given medication to stabilize their condition, will always have a higher risk than the general population for criminal thinking.

The biosocial theory of crime looks at each person and attempts to find an explanation for their specific conduct. In doing so, the possibility of correcting their circumstances to lower future risks becomes possible.