Why do people commit crime and deviance?

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Why do people commit crime and deviance?
The above question can be answered by referring to the different theories trying to explain the why of crime and deviance. The following theories of crime and deviance should be discussed in detail in order to conclude on drive of people to commit crime and deviance:

  • The Physiological or Biological theories of crime and deviance

  • The psychological theories of crime and deviance

  • The sociological theories of crime and deviance

The Physiological Theories or Biological theories of crime and deviance.
Most Physiological or Biological theories of crime and deviance argue that particular individuals are more prone to deviance than others because of their genetic make-up. Genetically inherited characteristics either directly cause or predispose them towards deviance. The following researchers can be considered for an elaboration of this theory:

  • Cesare Lombroso – criminals had peculiar bodily characteristics

  • Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck – the type of physical build predispose people to crime

  • Klinefelter’s Syndrome – British criminologist identifying the Y chromosome for being delinquent

  • Henry E. Kelly – Chemical Imbalances in the body like Hypoglycemia, can lead to crime and deviance

However Physiological or Biological theories of crime and deviance have been highly criticized. The criticism should be listed at the end of the elaboration.

  • Cesare Lombroso – criminals had peculiar bodily characteristics(Evolutionary Theory)

Cesare Lombroso, an Italian Doctor of the 19th century scientific explanations of human behaviour was a researcher who tried to link biology to crime, thus explaining the criminal drive according to the biological make-up. Lombroso, in his book L’Uomo Delinquente(1876), argued that criminals were throwbacks to an earlier and more primitive form of human being. He claimed to have identified a number of genetically determined characteristics which were often found in criminals. The genetically determined characteristics are large jaws, high cheek bones, large ears, extra nipples, toes and fingers, and an insensitivity to pain. He thought that these were the external signs of a potential criminal. Thus the key concept that he used was atavism: that is criminality was typical of less-developed individuals.

Lombroso’s Theory was criticized to be a primitive biological freak. His theory seems to be old fashioned but it has created certain form of stereotypes regarding the external look of criminal which is still being use by movie producers, villains are usually presented as having such characteristics. This theory is linked to racism, dark skin of criminals, while he did not refer to Blacks being criminals. It was also thought that non-europeans were most likely to be criminals. The samples that Lombroso used for his study was unrepresentative because he focused only on Italian Criminals who were jailed compared to a disciplined group of soldiers.

  • Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck – the type of physical build predispose people to crime

The Gluecks supported Lombroso’s theory of biological determination by claiming to have found a causal relationship between physical build and delinquent activity. They argue that the bodily construction of people predispose them to crime. Thus people having a ‘mesomorphic’ body type, that is stocky and rounded individuals, tend to be more active and aggressive than those of the other builds. The ‘mesomorph’ are prone to commiting crimes

The same criticism as Lombroso can be applied to the Gluecks explanation of crime and deviance because this theory also tend to develop stereotypes of criminals. Thus it is wrong to jail innocent people having this bodily construction in order to prevent crimes. Taylor, Walton and Young argued that the lower working class children, who are mostly found in the criminal statistics, are also by virtue of diet, continual labour, physical fitness and strength, more likely to be mesomorphic.

  • Klinefelter’s Syndrome – British criminologist identifying the Y chromosome for being delinquent

Modern biological theories are more likely to be concerned with biochemistry and genetics than with what people look like. British criminologist like Klinefelter believed they had found the precise genetic cause of criminality, that is chromosome abnormalities. Chromosomes transmit inherited characteristics from parents to children. Normally females have two X chromosomes, while males have one X and one Y. Occasionally some males may have an extra chromosome, that is an additional Y, thus XYY(males). A number of researchers found that there was an unusually high proportion of men with this chromosomal abnormality in high security prisons for the mentally ill.

-Females - XX

-Normal Males - XY

-Criminal Males - XYY
If there are a particular gene responsible for the commission of crime, then individuals would say that they are not wholly responsible for their criminal acts because the defective gene forced them to commit crimes. They would say it’s not me it’s my gene which is responsible. Furthermore to reduce crime or prevent it, it will be very simple. People with the extra chromosome should be prevented to have children and this would not be acceptable in a democratic or religious society like Mauritius. This theory sounds like the Nazis’ attempts to get rid of the defective gene. This theory cannot explain non-violent crimes like shop lifting and is utterly masculine in nature.

  • Henry E. Kelly – Chemical Imbalances in the body like Hypoglycemia, can lead to crime and deviance

Biochemical theories of crimes advanced by researchers like Kelly believes that chemical imbalances in the body can cause crime. People having ‘Hypoglycemia’, a conditionin which there is too much sugar in the bloods, leads sufferers to commit crimes. Vitamin deficiencies may, according to Kelly, have the same effect. Others argue that criminals have lower levels of Serotonin, a brain chemical which lessens aggressivity, which make them more aggressive.

Chemical imbalances are partly the result of inherited characteristics but they may also be caused by environmental factors such as poor diet. Thus as the number of diabetics are very high in Mauriritius, it would have been normal to have many criminal in here. But contrarily to this theory not all diabetics are criminals. Holborn and Makin point out, ‘A diabetic at work without a recent insulin injection approaching the lunch break may become tense, erratic, short tempered, but that behaviour does not constitute a criminal act’.

The Psychological Theories of crime and deviance.
The Psychological Theories of crime and deviance share certain similarities with biological theories. They see the deviant as different from the population as a whole and the adnormality predisposes him or her to deviance.

However psychological theories differ in that they see the deviant’s sickness and abnormality as lying in the mind rather than the body. The following Psychologist can be considered as be reference to the explanation of this theory;

  • Hans Eysenck – individuals inherit different personality which predisposes them to crime(personality theory).

  • John Bowlby – criminals are people who lack emotional security (maternal deprivation)

  • Pre-Menstrual Tension(PMT) – the predisposition of females for crime

However Psychological theory of crime and deviance have been highly criticized. The criticism should be listed at the end of the elaboration.

  • Hans Eysenck – individuals inherit different personality which predisposes them to crime(personality theory).

Hans Eysenck, the British Psychologist, has incorporated the physiological element in his theory but laid much emphasis on the mental processes. He said that there exist a link between genetically based personality characteristics and criminal behaviour. He claimed that individuals inherit different personality traits which predisposes them to crime. Thus criminality is an inherited characteristics like personality and intelligence. Eysenck believed that there are two basic personalities, the introvert and the extrovert, in which people are born with. Introverts are shy and quiet whereas extroverts are confident and outgoing. He believed that the extroverts are more likely to be criminals because they were more likely to get into situations where they might get into trouble, ‘he craves excitement, takes chances, often sticks his neck out, acts on the spur of the moment and is generally an impulsive individual’. They are also harder to be socialized into the norms, values and laws prevalent and social control has less hold upon them.

  • John Bowlby – criminals are people who lack emotional security (maternal deprivation)

Bowlby does not believed that deviance was inherited but that deviance resulted from negative influence during childhood. in his book, Forty-four Juvenile Thieves, he maintained that children needed emotional security during the first seven years of their lives. This could only be provided by the person who is closest to them that is their biological mother. He says that if a child was deprived of this emotional security and motherly love in childhood, the person could develop a psychopathic personality.

Bowlby conducted a number of studies of juvenile delinquents and found that the most psychologically disturbed had experienced separation from their mothers at an early age. Many had been raised in orphanages and as a result had been deprived of maternal love. They appeared unable to give or receive love and seemed compelled to adopt a career of destructive and anti-social relationships.
According to him psychopaths are persons who tend to act impulsively and on the spur of the moment. They have little regard for the consequences of their actions. Psychopaths rarely feel guilty and showed little response to punishment or treatment. Thus trying to apply social control to correct such persons will not work out effectively. According to Bowlby, delinquents who are chronic recidivists are persons who have suffered from maternal deprivation during their early years. Such persons could have been raised in orphanages and has had no intimate relationship with a mother figure.
Bowlby conclude that it is essential for mental health the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother.

  • Pre-Menstrual Tension(PMT) – the predisposition of females for crime

Psychologists have tried to determine the causes of female crimes. They claimed that women reaching menstruation are stress, become irrational and impulsive. Thus the stress cuased by the pre-menstrual tension is prone to lead to criminal bahaviour because during this period women are not able to control their behaviour. They argue that 80% of most female crimes occurs around the period of menstruation.

This theory was said to fits exactly the male stereotype of female criminal. The stress occurring around the pre-menstrual period has always been used negatively by males to exploit and differentiate against women. This theory implies that women are not responsible for their criminal actions because the undergo stressful situation during this period.

The Sociological Theories of crime and deviance.

Sociologists focus on social factors rather than on biological or psychological factors. They focus on a wide range of factors which they consider to be the causes of deviant or criminal behaviour. The factors which may contribute to crime and deviance are the socialization process, peer groups influences and sub-cultures, lack of opportunities, effects of the media and the nature of society we live in.

  • The Socialization Process.

Sociologists argues that the way that individuals are socialized will determine largely whether the person will abide with the existing norms and values or try to rebel against them. Socialisation is the process during which people learn to conform to the society’s norms. Sociologists say that whenever the socialization process goes wrong that is people are not well socialized, the result can be deviance or criminal acts. For example, if a child grows up in an environment where there is no respect for the family members(domestic violence) then the child will only have recourse to such types of violence in his life. Boys living in lone parent families, headed by females, can develop anti-social behaviour as they do not have a father as role model and as the enforcer of the informal social control.

Research has shown that children develop anti-social behaviour for reasons such as:

  • Peer Influence and Sub-Cultures

Another important socialization agency is the peer group. Peer influence can have a positive as well as a negative impact of those adhering to the group’s culture. Sociologists say that peer groups have norms and values which are against those of the society’s norms and values and in order to become a respect member of the group, the members should comply with the group’s culture and often it is a deviant or criminal culture. Therefore peers at school or in the immediately neighborhood can encourage delinquency because they have formed a sub-culture(a culture different from the dominant culture). Adolescent join sub-cultural groups in order to have some form of status or to be ‘in’. The chart below shows an example of norms, peer group subculture and the forms of deviance:




Education is very important, it is a way to progress(valued)

Little value is placed on education.

Truancy, bad behaviour at school

Respect for authority at school and in the society

No respect for authority at school and in the society

Rudeness to teachers and to other adults.

Follow the rules and norms

Dislikes school and societal rules and norms

Breaking those rules, testing the boundaries of such rules and norms

Respecting public property

No respect for public property

Vandalism, graffiti, spraying, use of foul languages.

Do not risk one’s or others life

Enjoyment of thrills and risks

Fights, shop lifting, ‘twocking’, practice dangerous games, drug and alcohol consumption

Sociologists argue that this form of sub-culture can consist of adults also in some regions like in “Caro Caliptis’ Roche Bois or Cite La Cure (Mauritius). In such regions crime is the people’s normal way of life, there is always a rival between them and the normal citizen. Sociologists also argue that a young person can be initiated to the world of crime and gradual obtain status and eventually develop a full criminal career.

  • Lack of Opportunity

Other sociologists argue that people commit crimes because they are unable to get the things they are entitled to. Societies usually set goals for its citizen to achieve, in capitalist societies the goal would be to have material comfort which revolves around money- so the ultimate goal is to have money. In the society there are appropriate, accepted and expected ways and means to obtain money, for example to go school and have good results, with the good result have a good job with a good salary and thus with it can purchase material comfort. However not everyone has the possibility to this opportunity and they will tend to change the means to reach the goal. So if they cannot have money through the proper channel they will try to have by having recourse to crime(drug trafficking).



Good and appropriate behaviour

Go to school, achieve good results, have a good job

Money. Material comfort, Prestige

Deviant behaviour

Stop schooling, engage in criminal activities.

Money. Material comfort, Prestige

Sociologists say that in situation of relative deprivation people may have the tendency to commit crime because the goals remain the same but everyone is not able to have it. Whenever the standard of living is rising, some people are getting wealthier, other will try to follow the pace and if they are not able to so they will have recourse to crime. Therefore a condition of poverty will not lead to crime but a condition of relative deprivation will surely lead to crime.

  • The Nature of Society

Functionalists: they consider deviance to stem from the society itself rather than being an individual, biological or individual problem.

Some of them says that deviance is useful for the society as it performs positive functions and helps to bring about changes, thus what was a crime in the past, is deviant today and will be the norm for the future (e.g. Homosexuality). Deviance like prostitution is said to act as a safety valve because it helps the individual to relieve himself of the stress and tension that has been accumulated.
Deviance helps to draw attention to a particular problem and helps the society to remedy such a peculiar situation.

Others say that deviance is a threat to social order because it goes against the set norms and values. Thus they agree altogether that social control mechanism like the police, courts etc.(formal social control) are necessary to discourage any form of deviance.

Marxists: they say that people commit crime as a reaction to the exploitation and oppression that people goes through in the society.
According to Marxists the society is divided between have and the have-nots and crime is inevitable as the relationship that exist in the society is based on conflict. In the capitalist society the economic system is based on:

Important Values


Unimportant Values


Valuing the ownership of material goods

Spiritual Values


Wanting more and better consumer goods such as cars, clothes, the latest technology

Emotional relationship


Companies and individual compete fiercely(CPE Exams) to be better off and own more and better life chances

Sharing, Helping,

Marxists say that the laws are not only made by the powerful but is also enforced by them. The law has been designed to protect the property of the rich against the poor, the poor are punish if the lay their hands on the property of the rich. Thus criminals like robbers are severely punished by the rich through formal social control like paying fines or being jailed. Thus the capitalists play high value on property than on human life. However whenever the rich commit a form of crime like fraud, corruption they are not so severely punish as the lower class group. This inequality may give rise to further deviance and crime.

  • Mass Media

The Mass media are important socializing agencies which are replacing gradually other forms of socialization. Since birth and onwards children are exposed to the media information. The mass media are increasingly projecting negative role models which are adopted by children. For example in almost all comics there is violence nowadays.

Furthermore Marxists say that the Mass Media, through advertising and the lifestyle they show us, constantly encourage materialist values. This encourages greed and selfishness. So it can be said that it is not surprising that people are turning to crime to get what the society is telling them to get.



Why Do People Commit Crimes/ Deviance?

Biological / Physiological Theories

Psychological Theories

Sociological Theories









Peer group and


Lack of opportunity

Nature of society

Mass Media

Criminals had specific bodily characteristics

People with a mesomorphic build can be criminals

Criminals are males having an extra Y chromosome

Chemical imbalances in the body leads to crime

Extrovert tend to be criminal as they are more impulsive

Maternal deprivation during childhood may form potential criminals

Women nearing menstruation have a tendency to commit crime

The way people are socialized by their parents can have an impact on their behaviour.

Peer influence and sub-culture can force young people into crime.

Lacking the desired opportunity to reach the goals set by the society can force people into crime to achieve them.

The way society functions give certain messages to people and most of them like the poor tend to react negatively in forms of crime

The lifestyle and Wants projected by the mass media make people more competitive, selfish and impulsive.


Most of these theories are outdated, some of them were used by sociologist to explain criminal behaviour.


Some of these theories nave not been proven and project the male stereotypical image of women


Most of these have been proven to be true as they reflect the real situation in everyday life, but together with the other theories they can explain fully why people commit crimes.

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