1st Edition

Biosocial Criminology New Directions in Theory and Research

Edited By Anthony Walsh, Kevin M. Beaver Copyright 2009
    304 Pages
    by Routledge

    304 Pages
    by Routledge

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    Ideal for use, either as a second text in a standard criminology course, or for a discrete course on biosocial perspectives, this book of original chapters breaks new and important ground for ways today's criminologists need to think more broadly about the crime problem.


    Chapter 1. The Building Blocks of Biosocial Criminology

    The introductory chapter will be a mild and painless overture into the fascinating interdisciplinary world of biosocial criminology. We assure criminologists who are not conversant with biology and only minimally with biosocial criminology that there is nothing to fear and everything to gain by integrating biosocial concepts into the discipline. The chapter will briefly answer some traditional objections to the approach before presenting the three major perspectives: behavioral genetic, evolutionary psychology, and the neurosciences. These are separate but fully complementary approaches to understanding the biopsychosocial phenomenon of criminal behavior.

    Chapter 2. Criminal Behavior from Heritability to Epigenetics: How Genetics

    Clarifies the Role of the Environment.

    Anthony Walsh Boise State University

    This chapter offers a brief look at how other disciplines have viewed the intrusion of more advanced disciplines into their fields of inquiry and how they have ultimately benefited from such intrusion. The main goal, however, is to show how genetics clarifies, not downplays or denigrates, the role of the environment. We begin with the concept of heritability, which allows us to apportion phenotypical variance into genetic and environmental components. Heritability, however, does not tell us what genes or what aspects of the environment are at play. We can now go straight to the DNA and thus identify specific genes, which takes us into the realm of molecular genetics. The chapter ends with epigenetics, which is any process that alters gene activity without changing the DNA sequence.

    Chapter 3. Molecular genetics and crime.

    Kevin M. Beaver Florida State University

    This chapter is designed to provide an overview to the molecular genetics of crime. Toward this end, the chapter will be divided into two main areas. First, given that many criminologists are unfamiliar with human genetics, the first half of the chapter will introduce the basic concepts and terminology of genetic research. The second half of the chapter will review the literature that has examined the effects that specific genetic polymorphisms have on antisocial and criminal phenotypes. The ways in which genes and the environment interact to produce behaviors will also be discussed.

    Chapter 4. Neuroscience and criminal behavior

    John P. Wright, M. Douglas Ris, and Kim N. Dietrich University of Cincinnati

    The human brain is a wonderfully complex organ intimately linked to all thoughts, feelings, and actions. Not surprisingly, brain structure and functioning have been linked to antisocial and serious criminal conduct. In this chapter we examine three aspects of the brain and how it is related to serious criminal behavior. We first trace the development of the human brain from the point of conception through the adult life-cycle. Relatedly, we identify and examine the structural and functional aspects of the brain. Second, characteristics related to criminality and the brain will be discussed, such as low verbal IQ, impulsivity, and low self-control. Finally, we show how the concept of the endophenotype can be used to bring together criminological and neuroscientific findings.

    Chapter 5. Evolutionary Psychology and crime

    Satoshi Kanazawa London School of Economics

    This chapter examines criminal and other forms of antisocial behavior as an evolutionary byproduct of a general male mating strategy. After presenting some major concepts of evolutionary psychology such as mating versus parenting effort, I show how traits useful for promiscuous mating effort (aggression, deception, low empathy levels, etc) may be co-opted to serve other (criminal) purposes for which these traits prove useful. I show how intra-male competition for status is an evolved strategy serving the ultimate evolutionary goal of reproductive success, and how this competition can turn deadly in disorganized social situationa (e.g., communities in which informal social control are lacking and in which formal controls are often ieffective).


    Chapter 6. Gender & crime: A biosocial perspective

    Ann Campbell, Durham University

    One of the most consistent findings within the criminological literature is that males are disproportionately over-involved in all types of serious violence. There is, however, very little agreement on what causes gender disparities in physical violence. Most extant criminological theories link the gender gap to differences in socialization between males and females. An equally plausible explanation, and one that has been overlooked by most social scientists, is that biosocial factors may partially explain the etiology of gender differences. In this chapter, we present evidence suggesting that structural and functional differences between the brains of males and females are likely contributors to differential rates of serious violence between genders, as well as why those differences are there in the first place in terms of our evolutionary history.

    Chapter 7. Race and Crime

    Alex Piquero, John Jay College


    Chapter 8. The Age/Crime Connection: Crazy by Design?

    Anthony Walsh

    Sociologically-oriented criminologists have long admitted that they are unable to adequately explain the age/crime curve; Gottfredson and Hirschi have even written that we should simply accept it as a law of nature and move on. We contend that the age/crime curve is fully explicable from a biosocial point of view. The major reason is that adolescents’ immature behavior mirrors the immaturity of their brains. Further, their immature brains are superimposed on an endocrine system geared for action. We thus address the age/crime curve from the varied points of view provided by sociology, psychology, neuroscience, endocrinology, and evolutionary biology.


    Chapter 9. Substance abuse & crime

    Michael G. Vaughn, University of Pittsburgh

    A number of different explanations have been advanced to account for the close nexus between substance abuse and criminal offending. One commonly employed explanation is that substance abuse and crime are due to common etiological factors. I build off this line of research and explore the possibility that the covariation between substance use and criminal offending is due to a shared biosocial pathway where genes, the environment, and biochemistry influence the probability of offending behaviors and the probability of drug/alcohol abuse. Evidence will also be presented to show that there are biosocial feedback effects between substance abuse and crime behaviors with prolonged substance altering biochemical and neurochemical levels, which, in turn, increase the odds of future offending.


    Chapter 10 The Role of Testosterone in Male Dominance Contests

    Allan Mazur, Syracuse University

    Usually face-to-face dominance contests between humans are nonviolent, even amiable. Most violence between young men occurs when dominance contests infrequently escalate beyond their usually bounds. Heightened testosterone is not a direct cause of male violence. Occasional outbreaks of violence occur for other reasons, and are often random outcomes. However testosterone does encourage (nonviolent) dominant behavior among young men, increasing the frequency of dominance contests, hence increasing the likelihood of violent outcomes. "Honor subcultures" such as are found in our inner cities place inordinate importance on the enhancement of personal reputations and the humiliation of losing face. This atmosphere of persistent challenge produces heightened testosterone in young black men of the inner city, raising the likelihood that they will engage in dominance competition, which in turn raises the likelihood of a violent, even fatal, outcome.


    Chapter 11. Career criminals: How are they different?

    Matt DeLisi, Iowa State University

    Although career criminals have been referred to as the holy grail of criminological research virtually all of the literature centers on its sociological and psychological characteristics. The genetic underpinnings of career criminality have been virtually ignored by criminologists. The current chapter reviews the endophenotypes that are linked to pathological criminal behavior, candidate genes that predict habitual criminal conduct, and environmental conditions that interact with genes to produce career criminals. Only by embracing findings from the biological sciences can criminology truly understand the etiology of the most serious criminal offenders.

    Chapter 12. Psychopathy

    Richard Wiebe Fitchburg State College

    This chapter examines the separate but overlapping constructs of psychopathy, sociopathy, and antisocial personality disorder from evolutionary, genetic, neurological, and sociological perspectives. Evidence indicates that psychopaths are a stable proportion of any population, can be from any segment of society, may constitute a distinct taxonomical class forged by frequency dependent natural selection, and that the muting of the social emotions is the proximate mechanism that enables psychopaths to pursue their self-centered goals without felling the pangs of guilt. Sociopaths are more the products of adverse environmental experiences that affect autonomic nervous system and neurological development that may lead to physiological responses similar to those of psychopaths. Antisocial personality disorder is a legal/clinical label that may be applied to both psychopaths and sociopaths.


    Chapter 13. A Biosocial Theory of Sexual Assault

    Lee Ellis, Minot State University

    This chapter will present a theory of rape that asserts that such behavior is not simply the result of sexism or other strictly social factors. Instead, the theory asserts that biology is involved, first, in the sense of evolutionary contributions, and, second, from the standpoint of hormonal influences on the brain. From an evolutionary standpoint, sexual assault can help individuals pass their genes on to future generations. While this is true for both sexes, males are much more likely to reproductively benefit from using forceful mating tactics than females because males can produce offspring with relatively little investments of time and energy (i.e., they do not have to gestate the offspring they sire). As to the involvement of neurohormonal factors, the theory asserts that males have evolved tendencies toward sexual assault due to the effects of testosterone and other sex hormones on brain functioning. In particular, testosterone-promoted brain functioning makes males more eager for sex than females and also inclines them to use more desperate measures to satiate their elevated sex drives.


    Chapter 14.

    No Longer Taboo: Crime Prevention Implications of Biosocial Criminology

    Matthew Robinson, Appalachian State University

    Crime prevention policies can be derived from any explanation of criminality. Logic suggests that the more complete the theory, the more effective the crime prevention informed by the theory will be. Since biosocial criminology meaningfully integrates perspectives and theories from the biological and social sciences, the approach offers much hope in the area of crime prevention. At the very least, biosocial crime prevention should be far more effective than those strategies currently utilized within agencies of criminal justice. This chapter outlines potential crime prevention policies derived from recent studies of risk factors consistent with biosocial criminology. The paper also attempts to prioritize those crime prevention policies that would likely be the most effective.


    Anthony Walsh (Ph.D Bowling Green State University) is Professor of Criminal Justice at Boise State University, Idaho.  He is the author or editor of more than 20 books and scores of articles and essays on the interplay of biological, social, and cultural factors involving crime and criminality.  He is author of the text Biosocial Criminology: Introduction and Integration.


    Kevin Beaver (Ph.D. University of Cincinnati) is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Florida State University, Tallahassee.  He teaches courses on biosocial criminology and genetic / biological correlates of offending and is the author of “Do Parents Matter in Creating Self-Control in their Children? A Genetically Informed Test of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s Theory of Low Self-Control”, which was published in the Journal Criminology.



    "I am very excited and enthusiastic to see this manuscript about to be published. Routledge will be doing a great service to the discipline of criminology, its students, and the larger social scientific enterprise by doing so."  Chris Gibson, University of Florida

    "I am very enthusiastic to see this book published. It represents the cutting edge of theorizing and empirical research regarding the interaction between physiological and environmental perspectives. The research and concepts in this book will convince all criminologists that the biosocial perspective must be considered in all future theoretical developments regarding the explanation of criminal behavior. " Stephen G. Tibbetts, California State University, San Bernardino