Nature Vs Nurture: Are Criminals Born or Made?

The question ‘are criminals born or made’ is a tricky one. As with anything when it comes to understanding something as complex as human beings, it doesn’t have a simple answer. But it’s a fascinating idea to look at, to understand what impact both nature and nurture have on us as humans and our personalities. When you think about notorious criminals and evil people in society, Hitler, Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy to name a few, it’s easy to think that they were surely born ‘different’ to me and you and had something in them, to begin with to make them commit the atrocities they did. But how true is this?

‘Crime’ Is a Social Construct

When we’re trying to work out if crime is driven by nature or nurture, we firstly need to understand what crime is. It’s defined as an ‘action or omission which can be punished by law,’ but this itself is tricky. It means that the notion of ‘crime’ is a completely social construct- it’s us as humans who lay down the law of what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to our behaviors. Think about it, there is no ‘crime’ in the animal kingdom. With this being said, it could be argued that crime or criminals do not exist, it’s simply other humans who label them as such.

Biology of Risk and Violence

One of the reasons people may be naturally more prone to committing crime, particularly those involving a lot of risks or with violence is due to their genetic makeup. Both of these things can be noted in many people with high levels of testosterone. This is likely to be due to the way testosterone can affect dopamine levels, those with high levels of the hormone feel good when engaging in this kind of activity due to the way the brain’s reward system works. This could be why there are so many higher cases of male crime than female for violence or risk, any criminal or DUI lawyer would be able to confirm that most (but not all) cases they deal with are by men. So while crime may be a social construct, there is definitely a genetic/ biological element involved when it comes to defining some criminals.

Cognitive and Social Influences

Early influences can dramatically shape an individual’s personality, their outlook and can be a predictor for later behavior. Things like child abuse for example can cause depression, hopelessness and a negative self-view later in life. Social influences like bullying or very stressful situations like homelessness, death of parents, terror or other factors can do the same. Combined with other factors, these things could increase the chances of committing crime in some individuals.

The real answer to whether criminals are born or made? It’s a bit of both. Most of the time, people can have a predisposition towards criminal behavior due to their genetic makeup. But it’s opportunity in the environment that causes them to act on this. With this in mind, the best way to prevent people from committing crime in the first place is by providing better opportunities, things for young people to do and education which can stop them from swaying in this direction.

About Will Chatham

Will Chatham is a Cyber Security Analyst, Ethical Hacker, and Penetration Tester at a federal data center in Asheville, NC. Since Netscape 2.0, he has worked in a wide array of environments including non-profit, corporate, small business, and government. His varied background, from developer to search engine optimizer to security professional, has helped him build a wide range of skills that help those with whom he works and teaches.
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