Psychologist argues biological makeup big reason behind life of crime

When it comes to the propensity to commit crimes, many people assume that it is an individual's life circumstances that cause him or her to commit a violent crime. So it makes sense for those convicted of crimes to be "rehabilitated" so they can be productive members of society after they complete their jail sentences or probationary terms, right?

An author of a new book entitled: The Anatomy of Violence, The Biological Roots of Crime, isn't so sure. The contents of his recent book have sparked a public discussion about the nature versus nurture debate and the reasons why certain people turn to crime.

The discussion

Adrian Raine, University of Pennsylvania Professor and expert in neurocriminology, is the author of a new book on crime and biology. In his book, Raine highlights his research on brain biology and indicates that it's highly overlooked as a primary reason behind the propensity for a person to enter a life of crime. He indicates that a person's environment may not be 100 percent to blame and that an individual's biological makeup shouldn't be ignored.

Biological makeup key to criminal behavior

In his book, Raine specifically points out the significance of individuals with birth defects, for instance, and how it has been found to correlate to higher risks of criminal behavior down the road.

"A child with fetal alcohol syndrome, a biological risk factor, is 19 times more likely to be incarcerated than a child without, " he argues. Additionally, children with low heart rates are more likely to commit crimes.

In the past, the nature-nurture debate was the dominating theory. Many believed that a person's environment and socioeconomic status determined whether he or she would take to a life of crime. Raines offered preliminary theories on biological factors, but it was controversial and was doubted.

Today, however, more crime experts such as Alex Piquero, a criminology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, indicate that his theory shouldn't be discounted. "Raine's work is considered scientifically sound and extremely objective," he said.

Revamping the criminal justice system

The brain is a complex mechanism and Raine says that scientists will never be able to have a "perfect "prediction" of crime, but it should be understood that not all brains are equal and "free will is not as free as we all think it is."

A second look at our penal justice system may be needed. If biological aspects are key to crime, it may be worth examining the current penalties and prison sentences handed down to criminals, and whether treatment options serve as better alternatives.