What Makes A Person Likely To Commit Crime?

@Rangers asked a question yesterday, https://www.girlsaskguys.com/social-relationships/q2925140-what-s-the-point-of-being-a-criminal and I was interested in it. When I was in college I majored in both psychology and criminal justice for a while. Eventually I dropped criminal justice, but I still find the subject interesting.

Looking through some of the responses, and think over some of my old beliefs I realized that we often believe false things about the cause of crime. Thus I decided to do a myTake about it and hopefully after reading this you'll have learned something!

What Makes A Person Likely To Commit Crime?

Firstly, I want to dispel one common myth. When asked what leads to an increase in crime many people understandably will point out that they think unemployment rates effect criminality. They hypothesis is that people who become unemployed turn to crime, perhaps out of anger or necessity. The problem with this is that the research is inconclusive on the subject. Some research will show a statistically significant correlation between the rise of unemployment and crime rates, but others will show that in fact there's no correlation. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/02601079X9000300305?journalCode=jiea

If unemployment isn't a reliable indicator of criminality then what could be?


Many people are wary of positing biological or genetic predispositions to criminality, but in this case it appears very likely that biology is the strongest factor in determining one's propensity for crime. Does this mean that researchers have found the "Crime Gene" have we conducted genetic research and pointed to something in particular that determines criminality? No, well on second thought perhaps, but I will not go into the neurology here. Maybe another day. Instead in order to demonstrate the likelihood that biology is the greatest factor involved in criminality we will look at three types of studies; adoption, twin, and adopted twin studies. If you don't typically look at scientific research, especially psychological, you may not know what these types of studies are, thus I'll give a brief description of each.

Adoption studies are one helpful way to determine the environmental and genetic factors of a particular trait. What will typically happen is that a researcher will talk to an adopted child and it's biological parents. What the child has different from their biological parents can be considered to be a result of environment, and what they share can be considered to be genetically based.

Twin studies are largely used to determine whether or not there is a genetic link to a particular trait. In these studies researchers typically look at the probability any two random people will share a trait in a population, and then compare that rate to siblings and mono/dyzigotic twins. If the trend is far more significantly correlated with monozygotic twins than the general populace it can be considered to have some basis in biology.

Adopted Twin Studies: Many of you may have realized a problem with the last type of study. You may have noted that most monozygotic twins will share the same environment, more so than most members of the general population. That is the purpose for these adopted twin studies. These studies look at twins separated at, or shortly after birth and looks to determine if the trait looked for is correlated. Unfortunately, there are no well done systematic studies of this kind in relation to the biological basis of crime.

We are thus left with the adoption and twin studies. These studies still strongly point to a genetic factor involved in criminality. I will give two examples below.


A Swedish national adoption study of criminality: K. S. Kendler, S. Larsson Lönn, N. A. Morris, J. Sundquist, N. Långström, and K. Sundquist is an adoption study which consisted of 18,000 adopted away children in which it is demonstrated that regardless of adopted parent influence children who's biological parents were criminals were at a greater risk of offending than their counterparts.


Criminality and Delinquency in Twins: Aaron J. Rosanoff, Leva M. Handy, Isabel Avis Rosanof, shows a strong statistical correlation between dizygotic twins. In this study out of 33 pairs of monozygotic twins 22 pairs were both criminals. This stands in stark contrast with the number of dizygotic twins, of the 23 twins only 3 pairs were both criminals. The difference in the rate between the two is likely counted by the genetic factors.

Peer Group

The second most consistently correlated factor with criminality is peer group. Parental influence (other than biological) appears to have little effect, or at most it's inconsistent within the literature. Judith Rich Harris pointed out the problems with this belief of parental influence on offspring in exhaustive book, The Nurture Assumption. She quite humorously states "Poor old Mum and Dad: publicly accused by their son, the poet, and never given a chance to reply to his charges. They shall have one now, if I may take the liberty of speaking for them.

How sharper than a serpent's tooth
To hear your child make such a fuss.
It isn't fair—it's not the truth—
He's fucked up, yes, but not by us."

Contagion and repeat offending among urban juvenile delinquents Jeremy Mennis, Philip Harris is one of the best articles on the subject, but unfortunately I can no longer access it to get y'all the statistics so I would instead recommend, Gang Membership, Delinquent Peers, and Delinquent
Behavior by Sara R. Battin-Pearson, Terence P. Thornberry, J. David Hawkins, and Marvin D. Krohn. This study shows that self professed gang members were about 10 times more likely to have gotten a violent or nonviolent offense within the past year when compared with their peers who reported that 1 or less of their best friends were engaged in such behavior.

What Makes A Person Likely To Commit Crime?

Anyway, this was more difficult than I thought as I am no longer in college and thus do not have access to a lot of the studies I wanted to point out. Hopefully it was still coherent. Thoughts appreciated.

ladsin is a GirlsAskGuys Editor
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Most Helpful Girl

  • I think there are genetic predispositions. Some people have a higher levels of cortisol, and some are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Their parents could do everything in their power to help their kid find healthy ways to cope. Like you said though parental influence (other than biological) seems to have little affect. Terrible things can happen in a persons life. While it may not always lead to criminal activity, it's those events that can change a person and make life much more difficult.

    • Of course. The best way I've heard it explained it that genetics just provide potential. Environmental factors effect whether or not we act on them. Within the week I'll do one on the origins of violence, because I think people are far too quick to say, "I'd never do that!"

    • You are awesome!

    • I try XD
      I just like psychology. Plus I'm getting ready to take the GRE and try to go to grad school for psych so I figured working on disseminating psychological information would be good practice!

Most Helpful Guy

  • I'm surprised you didn't just add something about basic temperament. That is one of the easiest predictors of all behavior.


    I read both your sources and the first source specifically uses criminals and criminal databases that are distinctly only convictions. Nothing is wrong with that but from the read the basic premise is that while genetics (temperament) may have something to do with it a lot of it deals with environment with high correlations towards what is functionally learned behavior.

    The second source deals exclusively with the mentally ill with disregard for how the mental illness developed and it is well known that mental illness on all fronts can cause upticks in crime especially regarding illnesses that effect impulse control. The paper also cites on page 923, or "pg 1" towards the bottom the following:

    "While such material as ours cannot give us any idea of the nature of causative factors, it can indicate quite definitely the developmental period in which such factors are operative."

    So I continued to read the paper and found something problematic that doesn't work well; in those who commit crimes males (surprise, surprise) were far more prevalent than females. Furthermore behavioral problems as children were the highest ranking and then it almost immediately drops off and criminality in adult males is incredibly prevalent while criminality in adult females pretty much disappears.

    Furthermore the types of crimes are very different between the sexes with the girls in the juvenile cases basically all being sexual delinquency and the males varying somewhat more broadly into aggression. Besides the study being very old there seems to be a missing link in the whole picture because the question of why this all clears up, where maturity seems to take hold and criminality drops sharply in adults versus teenagers versus children and behaviors seems to deviate from the idea of pure criminality through genetic markers and perhaps looks closer towards temperament. Unfortunately because both of the studies can only work from data related inherently to known factors (mental illness and direct criminal offenses recorded) while there does seem to be some biological factor it is hard to calculate.

    It turns out, rather unsurprisingly, your second point fits the bill as well; individuals tend to group up with others of the same temperament so gangs form from people who have the same p

    • Also, temperament is far more current than 1934 where the idea was, at best, somewhat significantly more vague and hard to look into.

    • Good points! Thanks for the input.
      Temperament is nature no? That would seem to be redundant to me to say that biological influences are the greatest factor involved and then talk about their natural temperament.

      Your point is well taken about the age of the article. I posted it because 1) it shows a stark contrast between DZ and MZ twins. 2) I had read other articles and had links to other articles, but could only receive the abstract. I graduated college and would now have to pay for them. Which is of course frustrating.

      The differences noted between F and M MZ and DZ twins is interesting and would seem to indicate that something involving the Y chromosome in particular is especially linked with criminality.

    • Or testosterone. Temperament is complex but it is also known that individuals with high testosterone tend to be prone to irrational and impulsive behavior. The term "roid rage" being an example of artificial increases in levels of the hormone and it's compliments.

      So I wouldn't say that genetics appoint plays this massive role and while biology does kick in I don't want to make the error of inferring directly to birth conditions and ultimately paint the portrait of the "criminal from birth" since most humans don't end up in violent crimes and NVCs range broadly from sexual deviance laws that change over time or aren't actually harmful such as underage sex between like age minors to modern day digital pranks.

      So yes, biology matters, but biology changes and social scenarios must be accounted for because we have problems also with professions like strongmen contestants who clearly have a lot of testosterone and don't commit crimes. Deep stuff really.

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What Girls Said 4

  • Yo dude this was very interesting

    i think peer pressure makes a person most likley to commit a crime

    • Cool lol.
      It is an interesting subject. I may start doing more myTakes about psychology. Thus far though I've only got one response XI
      I also have been doing a few on religion that you haven't responded to! Those are part of a series I'm doing on arguments for the existence of a god. You should check them out, I'd be interested to hear your input

    • @ladsin
      that would be really cool

      i haven't seen them

      ill look tho

    • @ladsin i replied to some of your questions anon cuz i didn't want some random guy pming me and saying what i said was too harsh

  • Crime is relative. Selling illicit drugs is a crime but I wouldn't call that person fucked in the head for doing that.
    Being a serial killer is a crime but people who are, I'm pretty convinced, have something not right with them

  • Hmm maybe because being bad is easier and fun. The thrill of not getting caught always gives a rush.

  • Usually when that person is me.


What Guys Said 14

  • Children who get spanked are more likely to become inmates. Children that were raised in single mother households disproportionately makeup the majority of inmate population. A belief in Christianity is directed correlated to over 50% of the violent offense inmates. Environment, lack of income, being raised poor, inability to find meaningful work in today's job market are some other factors.

  • Poverty can lead to high levels of stress that in turn may lead individuals to commit theft, robbery, or other violent acts. ... Higher unemployment would certainly increase poverty and at the same time lead to more crime due to depression associated with being unemployed.
    Source: Poverty & Crime - Fundamental Finance

    • As I said. Research shows that is inconclusive. Ie when America went through its recent economic downturn and employment dropped the crime rate remained steady

    • Show All
    • Because people are stupid

    • @ladsin a recent economic downturn lasting a few years isn't the same as hopeless poverty, for generations upon generations.

  • Being ethnic. All Muslims are potential suicide bombers, all Jews are rapeists, Harvey Weinstine, Roman Polansky, Woody Allen, and all blacks are either pimps or whores, have you noticed how many blacks there are in prison? That's because they're natural born criminals.

    • Eh, presuming that you're serious I'd have to disagree, and this is the fear that many have with pointing out a biological factor. As best we can tell all people, or most all, are prone to violence. In fact research conducted at American universities point out that within the past year ~80% of males admitted to having thought about committing murder, and ~60% of females. As was pointed out by a student when these results were stated, "And the rest were lying!"

  • Nice with these intellectual Takes. I like.

    I read that an authoritarian parenting style often results in a lack of respect for authority, and hence a life of crime.

    • Thanks, I try to do one a night these days. I am getting ready to apply to grad school and wanted to get back into the process of writing.

      Perhaps, but the research on the subject appears to indicate that in fact other than genetics parental influence has little to do with personality or criminality. I tried to point this out with Judith Rich Harris' The Nurture Assumption. I'd have to see the study in question to determine whether or not it'd change my mind

    • Nice. That is pretty impressive. What course?

      homepages. utoledo. edu/mcaruso/honors-lifespan/baumrind. PDF

    • Not entirely sure what specific course I want to attempt yet. Where I live the grad programs are all about psychology of the native populations. That doesn't really interest me, although one interesting area is how these native populations are dealing with the new concept of cancer that they used to not have. I find this interesting, but don't know that I could spend a hundred plus hours on it. I like the idea of online schools, but they aren't as well received in the community.

      First blush I think the researchers were a little too broad. I worry that they don't for example take into account the behavior of their parents.
      For example, does low maturity demands lead to low self-reliance, or is it the case that a parent who has these low demands has low self-reliance themselves? Is a parent with high nurturance (warmth) able to teach their kids high affiliation (warmth) or is it a result of their biology? Etc

  • What about people who grew up in an abusive household? That is very interesting with the twins though. I've also heard IQ can be a factor.

    • IQ is also highly correlated with paternal parents despite environmental effects. This is a little more contestable though. Especially since many intellectuals frequently denounce the idea of general intelligence.
      There isn't much of an indication that the effect of abuse on a child. This is explicated in Judith Rich Harris' book. This is because it's hard to determine a causal link between the abuse and criminality. Obviously if research was being conducted and abuse was going on we could not continue to study it. Is it more likely that the abuse itself causes violent tendencies, or is it more likely that due to picking up the genetics of an abusive parent violent tendencies increase? It's hard to tell, but based on adoption studies it appears to be the latter.

    • Ah that makes sense... Thanks for explaining that to me!

    • Of course. Within the week I'll do a myTake on violence, which I think will be really interesting. I have to determine how I want to tackle it though as it's an incredibly large subject

  • Thanks for sharing your Take with GirlsAskGuys Community.

  • Who their parents are, and their gender.
    98% of prisoners are Male. Think about that. NINETY EIGHT percent!!! That is virtually 100% of people sentenced to captivity.

    If the same percentage of prisoners were female, or 'black', can you imagine the outrage? It would have been changed before the stone age.

    Crime has always been there to enforce behavior that supports commercialism, and opresses the potentially revolutionary proletariate. Males who can fight, or are tough, or outspoken. 98 per cent.

    In the overused example of Nazi Germany, speaking out was probably illegal. That means that perfectly reasonable behavior was made a 'crime'. So the lawmakers and one's gender (as well as parents/class) are what decides.

    • Where did you get the 98% from?

    • @DonRomeo
      you got the statistic thingy wrong its not 98% of men go to jail

      there was a study made in 2009 that the majority of the total correctional population (prison, jails, community supervision) was male (82 percent) and the remaining 18 percent was female.

      so yeah

  • I found it funny that when crime didn't rise dramatically with the last uptick in youth unemployment, many attributed it to the young age group that traditionally has the highest crime rates being preoccupied with their electronics - games, social media, etc.

  • good take

  • all i know is that i need to keep away from tyrone

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