The Role of Biology Research Essay

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Three major viewpoints have contributed to the clarification of criminal law and crime since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Early on, it was believed that crime was an inevitable byproduct of urban squalor, poor upbringing, and American immigrants' unwillingness to completely integrate into the new society. The theory was prevalent until a new form emerged that attributed crime to social conditions, the main cause of which was fundamental economic flaws that people were powerless to control. Conferring to these explanations, criminality is entirely due to a person’s external conditions or the abnormal psychological conditions. Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) however suggest that personality mannerisms such as genetic markup, physical structure, and intelligence overshadow the prominence of the social variables of criminal action. Crime can be considered biological if it as a result of insanity, in that case, the defendant is confined in a mental hospital while undergoing treatment and therapy.

According to Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) criminological theory, all human behaviors which include their criminality nature is influenced by its apparent consequences. A criminal instance takes place when a person chooses to commit an unlawful over typical behavior after calculating the potential advances and losses of each, “The larger the ratio of the net rewards of the crime to the net compensation of the noncrime, the greater the tendency to commit the crime” (Wilson and Herrnstein, 1985; p 118). The authors’ model assumes that both biological and psychological attributes inspire a crime or the conventional choices. They oversee a relationship between a person’s criminal nature and biosocial factors such as low intelligence, genetics, automatic nervous system possession, and the ability to respond quickly to stimuli. Psychological traits including impulsive or extroverted personality are also linked to the potentiality of committing a crime. Through their emphasis on the constitutional and psychological dynamics of crime, the two authors appear to suggest the presence of an indefinable latent trait that prompts individuals to commit a crime (Wilson and Herrnstein, 1985; p 119). In almost all criminal cases, the prosecution is required to deliver evidence that the offender acted on his own free will since it is the only moral justification for punishing an individual for a crime. It is therefore justified to punish a criminal according to the law even though the social science theorists argue on the concepts to free will and the personal responsibility. The principal cause of crime is the offender’s unchanging aspects of the human nature that produce acts of greatness. Human beings have the capacity of self-consciousness, which are relational agents enabling them to act morally or have the ability to demonstrate their will power, consequently committing a crime such as murder is punishable.

The retributivist maintains three important positions regarding punishment for a crime. First, all the guilty individuals need to be punished, second, a person is innocent until proven guilty of a crime and thirdly, the form of punishment should be in percentage to the sternness of their crime. Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) states that there are three reasons for punishment including incapacitation where opportunities for a crime are removed by isolating the offenders from the general public for example through house arrest, and execution. Second is deterrence which prevents future crime by instilling fear to the criminal or the public. In specific Deterrence, the law maker punishes the offender who later retaliates by not committing another crime for fear of getting a more severe form of penance. The third is retribution, where crime is prevented by removing the desires for personal avengement for instance in the form of homicide, assault and murder against the criminal.

The first forms of punishment of a crime were established as early as during the middle Ages where criminals went through a trial by ordeal. The Feudal Lords developed a system where by a suspect would be forced to go through complicated processes of pain and suffering; if they were innocent then their God would protect them, and if guilty then they would die. The system was condemned by many people including the pope. At the end of middle age, different explanations for the crime were developed such as natural, social contrast and later classical criminology. According to Beccaria (1764) who was among the primary authors of the classical approach, the decision to commit a crime is pre-meditated otherwise an act of free will. If an individual decides to stray from the law, then a system of punishment is obliged to be put into exploitation. Nonetheless, Beccaria’s assumption has been criticized by the biological positivist theory which replicates a very diverse approach. The Biological positivism, scrap the idea that individuals have optimality to commit a crime instead the criminal behavior is a product of biological flaws or abnormalities. The defects can either be biological or genetic; nevertheless, they do not render any capability of making any free will choices to the offender. Their form of punishment is through medication or therapy in contrast to Beccaria’s which deterrence. The biological explanation of crime shows that some people are “born criminals”. It explains that a criminal action is not entirely an individual behavioral fault by explaining that crime is due to some chemical imbalances in the brain and also links the behavior to testosterone and IQ.

The modern society also influences the individual choices to commit a crime. Wilson and Herrnstein believe that retribution can be a form of punishment; however, they see it as limited because it does not guarantee that the criminal will be reformed or be restrained by punishment. Its justification only lies in the opinion that it is just instead of being effective. A person who has been seen to have reformed is mandated from further punishments. The criminal system decides the amount of punishment that an individual receives for committing a crime. Criminal defenses fall under two categories, excuse and exculpation. An excuse spares a person from potential liability to a crime if the individual belongs to a group which shares a common characteristic, for example, a police officer might not be punished for murder during his or her official duty time. An individual who commits a crime due to self-defense is also not reliable for punishment. The purpose of punishment according to Wilson and Herrnstein includes incapacitation, moral education, retribution and deterrence. The two maintains that crime is not an act of free will where they argue that the inherited traits combine with environmental factors to produce offence.

The article written by Bort (2017) seems to contradict with Wilson and Herrnstein ideas on causes of crime. According to Bort teenagers are more venerable to crime than the mature adults. However, cultural factors are the reasons for the offence and not biology as perceived by Wilson and Herrnstein. In a study conducted by criminologists at the Penn State University on a sample of Taiwan teens, indicate that crime is at the peak in an individual within 20 to 30 years. The findings are different from those of western countries where culture is more individualistic. The consideration of both constitutional and environmental factors together with culture can, therefore, help to explain individual involvement in the crime.

Wilson and Herrnstein criminology theory has had its share of criticism from a scientist who thought that their work was not standardized. Their book does not, therefore, deserve judgment in isolation. When coming up with the theory, they have potentially used a selection of weak data to support a jumbled ideology of biological determinism which is very unrepresentative. Even though the theory of criminology can be classified as the deterministic theory of criminal behavior that is mostly rooted in biology, another antagonizing approach would be to rate it as more of a research review from varies fields, including human behavior and antisocial. The two authors could not even characterize their work as rooted in biology; the theory is so contradicting and difficult to understand. Some questions can be asked from Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) book, for example, “Why the rich get richer while the poor get prison” and “which concepts explain the myths of crime?”


Bort, R. (2017, August 08). Teen crime may be a result of cultural forces, not biological ones, according to a study. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from

Wilson, J. Q., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1985). Crime and human nature. New York: Simon and Schuster.

July 15, 2023

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