Theories of Crime Causation

Syllabi/Table of Specifications

The registered criminologist can perform the competencies under the following sub-topics:

1. Recall and explain the fundamentals of crime causation with emphasis on biological or medical, psychological, psychiatric, and sociological determinism

2. Enumerate and distinguish biological and psychological theories of crime causation.

3. Apply and illustrate sociological and economic theories in understanding the causes of crimes.

4. Explain and correlate bio-psychosocial theories of the causes of crimes.

5. Understanding theories on female offenders.


1. Cesare Lombroso 

2. Enrico Ferri 

3. Raffaele Garofalo


1. Biological Theory - This refers to the set of theories that point to physical, physiological and other natural factors as the causes of the commission of crimes for certain individuals. This explanation for the existence of criminal traits associates an individual's evil disposition with physical disfigurement or impairment.

A. Physiognomy- the study of facial features and their relation to human behaviour. This is according to Giambiatista dela Porta, the founder of human physiognomy, where criminal behaviour may be predicted based on the facial features of the person. Johann Kaspar Lavater supported dela Porta on his belief and in addition, he claimed that a person's character is revealed through his facial characteristics.

B. Phrenology, Craniology, or Cranioscopy- the study of the external formation of the skull in relation to the person's personality and tendencies toward criminal behaviour. It was Franz Joseph Gall who developed cranioscopy which was later renamed "phrenology". Johann Kaspar Spurzheim was an assistant of Gall in the study of phrenology. He was the man most responsible for popularizing and spreading phrenology to a wide audience.

C. Physiology or Somatotype- refers to the study of the body build of a person in relation to his temperament and personality and the type of offences he is most prone to commit.

1. Ernst Kretschmer- he distinguished the principal types of physiques:

a. Asthenic- characterised as thin, small and weak.

b. Athletic- muscular and strong.

c. Pyknic- stout, round and fat

d. Dysplastic- a combination of 2 body types

2. William Sheldon- formulated his own group of somatotypes:

a. Ectomorph- tall and thin and less social, more intellectual than other types.

b. Mesomorph- have well-developed muscles and an athletic appearance.

c. Endomorph- heavy builds and slow-moving.

D. Heredity- the transmission of traits from parents to children.

1. Richard Louis Dugdale - conducted the study of the Jukes family by researching their family tree as far back as 200 years. He discovered that most of the ascendants of the Jukes were criminals.

2. Henry Goddard - he traced the descendants of Martin Kallikak from each of his two wives and found a distinct difference in terms of the quality of life of the descendants. He coined the term "moron".

3. Charles Goring - believed that criminal traits can be passed from parents to children through genes. He proposed that individuals who possess criminal characteristics should be prohibited from having children.


Alfred Binet- a French Psychologist who developed the first IQ test. This test measured the capacity of individual children to perform tasks or solve problems in relation to the average capacity of their peers.

2. Psychological Theory - This refers to the theories that attribute criminal behaviour of individuals to psychological factors, such as emotional and mental problems.

Sigmund Freud- he is recognized as the "Father of Psychoanalysis/ Psychodynamics". According to him, criminality is caused by the imbalance of the three components of personality: ID, EGO, and SUPEREGO.

a. ID- This stands for instinctual drives; it is governed by the "pleasure principle", the id impulses are not social and must be repressed or adapted so that they may become socially acceptable.

b.. EGO- This is considered to be the sensible and responsible part of an individuals personality and is governed by the "reality principle", It is developed early in life and compensates for the demands of the ID by helping the individual guide his actions to remain within the boundaries of accepted social behaviour, it is the objective, rational part of the personality.

c. SUPEREGO- serves as the moral conscience of an individual; it is structured by what values were taught by the parents, the school and the community, as well as belief in God; it is largely responsible for making a person follow the moral code of society.

3. Sociological Theory - refers to things, places and people with whom we come in contact and which play a part in determining our actions and conduct. These causes may bring about the development of criminal behaviour.

a. Emile Durkheim- he stated that crime is a normal part of our society just like birth and death. He proposed the concept of "anomie" or the "absence of social norms". It is characterized by disorder due to a lack of respect for authority and a lack of appreciation for what is acceptable and not acceptable in society.

b. Gabriel Tarde- introduced the "theory of imitation "which proposes the process by which people become criminals. According to his theory, individuals imitate the behaviour of other individuals based on the degree of their association with other individuals and it is inferior or weak who tend to imitate the superior and strong.

c. Adolph Ouetelet and Andre Michael Guerry- repudiated the free-will doctrine of the classicists. The founder of the "Cartographic School of Criminology", the founder of moral statistics. The Cartographic School of Criminology made use of statistical data such as population, gender, age, occupation, religious affiliations and social-economic status and studies their influences and relationships to criminality.


- environmental factors such as the kind of rearing or family upbringing, quality of teaching in school, influences of peers and friends, conditions of the neighborhood, and economic and other societal factors are believed to be contributory to crime and criminal behavior.


- refers not only to the physical features of the communities but also to the way society is organized.

- include such things as the level of poverty and unemployment and the amount of crowded housing which are believed to affect the behavior and attitudes of individuals which in turn contribute to their commission of crimes.

- also called the social environment

- includes social disorganization theory, strain theory, and cultural deviance theory.

a. Social Disorganization Theory

- popularized by Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay.

- according to this theory, crimes in urban areas are more prevalent because residents have impersonal relationships with each other.

- increase in the number of broken families and single parenthood are also very common in disorganized communities.

- another feature of a disorganized community is poverty as evidenced by poor living conditions such as rundown houses, unsanitary and unsightly streets, and high unemployment rates.

b. Strain Theory

- strain refers to the individual’s frustration, anger, and resentment.

- holds that crime is a function of the conflict between the goals people have and the means they can use to legally obtain them. This also argues that the ability to obtain these goals is class dependent; members of the lower class are unable to achieve these goals which come easily to those belonging to the upper class. Consequently, they feel anger, frustration, and resentment, referred to as STRAIN.

c. Cultural Deviance Theory

- gives emphasis on the concept of culture and sub-culture.

- according to this theory, because people in the lower class feel isolated due to extreme deprivation or poverty, they tend to create a sub-culture with its own set of rules and values. This is characterized by deviant behavior which results in criminal behavior among its members.


-refers to a group of theories that point to the individual’s socialization process as the cause of the commission of crimes. These theories cite interaction with people and experiences and exposure to different elements in the environment as primary factors to criminality.

- under this theory is the social learning theory which in turn has three (3) sub-theories:  differential association theory, differential reinforcement theory and neutralization theory.

a. Differential Association Theory

- formulated by Edwin Sutherland

- this theory states that criminal behavior is learned through socialization.

- criminal behavior is learned in interaction with other persons in a process of communication.

b. Differential Reinforcement Theory

- according to this theory, an individual’s behavior depends on how people around him react towards his behavior.

- an act that is rewarded is repeated; an act that is punished will be avoided.

c. Neutralization Theory

- introduced by David Matza and Gresham Sykes.

- sometimes referred to as “drift theory”

- according to this theory,  people know when they are doing something wrong, however, they rationalize and justify their actions. This rationalizing is what we call “neutralization”.


- more commonly called labeling theory.

- it states that people become criminals when significant members of society label them as such and they accept those labels as a personal identity.


- maintain that everyone has the potential to become criminal but most people are controlled by their bonds to society.

- social control refers to the agencies of social control such as family, school, religion or church, government and laws, and other identified authorities in society.

- there are two (2) sub-theories: containment theory and social bond theory.

a. Containment Theory

- proposed by Walter Reckless

- he stated that inner and outer containments help prevent juvenile offending.

- containment means the forces within and outside the individual that has the power to influence his actions.

- inner containments include a positive self-concept, tolerance for frustration, and an ability to set realistic goals.

- outer containments include family.

b. Social Bond Theory

- propagated by Travis Hirschi

- this theory views crime as a result of individuals with weakened bonds to social institutions.

- according to this theory, there are four (4) elements of social bonds:  attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.

1. attachment  –  refers to the degree to which an individual cares about the opinions of others.

2. commitment – refers to an individual’s investment of energy and emotion in conventional pursuits, such as getting good grades.

3. involvement – refers to the amount of time an individual spends on a conventional pursuit.

4. belief – refers to acceptance of the norms of conventional society.

- refers to the measure of the level or amount of crimes.
- The collection or study of numerical data of crimes recorded/reported to the police.
- it uses the terms index crimes and non-index crimes in classifying crimes.

Index crimes - are crimes which are sufficiently significant and which occur with sufficient regularity to be meaningful, such as murder, homicide, physical injury, robbery, theft and rape.

Non-index crimes - are crimes that are not classified as index crimes. Violations of special laws and other crimes against  moral and order. These crimes are generated from the result of positive police initiated operations.


1. Crime Solution Efficiency (CSE) – percentage of solved cases out of the total number of reported crime incidents handled  by the police for a given period of time. It is a general measure of law enforcement agency’s investigative capability or efficiency.

2. Crime Rate – the number of incidents in a given period of time for every 100, 000 inhabitants of an area/place.

3. Average Monthly Crime Rate (AMCR) – the average number of crime incidents occurred per month for every 100, 000 inhabitants in a certain area.

4. Variance (or % change) – one way of analyzing crime trends. It measures the percentage change over a given period of time.

5. Crime Analysis
a. Percentage Share of Crime Volume of a Certain Area.
b. Percentage Share of the Occurrence of a Type of Crime.

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