Biosocial founder of The Italian School, Cesare

criminologists investigate both biological and environmental factors to explain
crime and antisocial behaviour. They hypothesize that humans have unique
characteristics, or predispositions that under certain conditions
(environments) lead them to display antisocial behaviour and commit criminal
acts. Within this essay, the individual trait
theory of criminology will be discussed and examined.


The individual trait theory of
criminology states that people commit crimes because of certain personality traits,
which can be categorised in two branches:

Traits that have a
biological or genetic structure

Traits that have an environmental
or psychological structure

This theory can be traced back to the
criminologist and founder of The Italian School, Cesare Lombroso, who believed
criminals were born, (not made), without a chance to change their outcome.

While the contemporary theory does not agree with Lombroso’s ideas, nor does it
suggest that a single biological, or psychological trait is the cause of all
criminality, it does stress that criminals are distinctive both mentally and


One branch of trait theory focuses
on biological or genetic influences thought to amplify antisocial behaviour.

This includes the possibility that the criminal tendencies were inherited; a
defect (either structural or functional); and neurophysiological or biochemical
disorders. Trait theory’s other branch concentrates on the environmental or the
psychological characteristics of crime, namely intelligence, criminal
behaviour, learning, and personality being looked at to explain antisocial


Concentrating on the biological
influences an adoption-based research design was utilised to separate genetics
from environmental effects, examining if the likelihood of being arrested, sentenced to probation,
incarcerated, or arrested numerous times is
influenced by genetic factors. This was achieved by linking similarities of the
adolescents to both their biological parents, and their adoptive parents. If
the adoptee had little to no exposure to their biological parents, any likeness
would be due to their shared genetic material. In addition, any similarities
would be due to environmental effects if the adoptees were not biologically related
to their adoptive parents.


The study showed
that the adolescents genetically predisposed to antisocial behavior,
as measured by the criminality of their biological parents, were significantly
more likely to have been through the criminal
justice system when
compared with the adolescents whose biological parents had never
been arrested.


The history of biosocial
criminology has been very contentious in the past; giving rise to eugenics
between 1890 and 1960, stating that social mobility is attributed to both genetic
fitness, and intelligence. With both class and race being factored into what
made someone categorised as “fit” or “unfit” this led to middle class women
being encouraged to bear more children and lower class women being forcibly
sterilised. Euthanasia programs where proposed to control the “unfit”
population. Gas chambers were the most common suggestion to implement this.

However, many doctors found other ways to subtly implement eugenic euthanasia
in various medical institutions, with one mental institution giving their
patients milk laced with tuberculosis believing that genetically “fit”
individual would be resistant. This resulted in an annual death of 30-40%
patients. While it would be natural to believe all of this happened within Nazi
Germany leading up to World War II, it was within The United States of America
where it was well established before gaining popularity in Germany.


A study investigating the methods
used and discusses the list of nine assumptions that are utilised within
heritability studies, focusing on one assumption called equal environment
assumption (EEA). This is the assumption that the environments of identical
twins are no more similar than fraternal twins. The paper discusses that the
EEA has been shown to be invalid as identical twins environment is more similar
than fraternal twins. A look at 20 studies from 2008 onwards shows only one
study mentions the EEA. Studies that fail to neither mention the EEA and its possible
violation, nor consider it within the results are expected to inflate the
heritability effects, while also decreasing the shared environmental effects to
a significant degree.


An additional indication that the
validity of focusing on biological/genetics over environment is not feasible is
the recent understanding that the human genome is dynamic and responsive to
environments, changing the understanding of heredity.


criminologists have argued that biosocial
criminology theories are no different to historical biosocial criminology that
included eugenics and phrenology. While it is clear biosocial criminologists
resist idenfication with both Lombroso and eugenics, there is a considerable potential for misuse, potentially
repeating history.


Research has shown that human
behaviour is a result of the relationship between biology and environment. The
question of nature vs. nurture no longer makes sense in the context of modern
genetics or criminology.


It is clear that while genetics may
play a part in the predisposition to antisocial behaviour and criminal
activity, that the environment plays as bit a part, as does the believe that
the individual has the ability to control both their behaviour and their
outcome. While it would be wonderful to be able to