Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Social psychology: Altruism · Attribution · Attitudes · Conformity · Discrimination · Groups · Interpersonal relations · Obedience · Prejudice · Norms · Perception · Index · Outline

Many different causes and correlates of crime have been proposed with varying degree of empirical support.

Research and sources

The causes of crime is one of the major research areas in criminology. A large number of narrow and broad theories have been proposed for explaining crime.

The Handbook of Crime Correlates (2009) is a systematic review of worldwide empirical studies on crime publicized in the academic literature. The results of a total of 5200 studies are summarized. In order to identify well-established relationships to crime consistency scores were calculated for the factors which many studies have examined. The scoring depends on how consistent a statistically significant relationship was found in the studies. The authors argue that the review summaries most of what is currently known of variables associated with criminality.[1]



Crime is most frequent in second and third decades of life.[1]


Males commit more overall and violent crime. They also commit more property crime except shoplifting, which is about equally distributed between the genders. Males appear to be more likely to recidivate.[1]


Measures related to arousal such as heart rate and skin conductance are low among criminals.[1]

Body type

Mesomorphic or muscular body type is positively correlated with criminality.[1]


Testosterone is positively correlated to criminality.[1]

Biochemical markers

Low monoamine oxidase activity and low 5-HIAA levels are found among criminals.[1]

Race, ethnicity, and immigration

There is a relationship between race and crime.[1]

Ethnically/racially diverse areas probably have higher crime rates compared to ethnically/racially homogeneous areas.[1]

Most studies on immigrants have found higher rates of crime. However, this varies greatly depending on the country of origin with immigrants from some regions having lower crime rates than the indigenous population.[1]

Early life


Maternal smoking during pregnancy is associated with later criminality. Low birth weight and perinatal trauma/birth complications may be more prevalent among criminals.[1][2]


Child maltreatment, low parent-child attachment, marital discord/family discord, alcoholism and drug use in the family, and low parental supervision/monitoring are associated with criminality. Larger family size and later birth order are also associated.[1]


Nocturnal enuresis or bed wetting correlates with criminality.[1]


Bullying is positively related to criminal behavior. [1]


School disciplinary problems, truancy, low grade point average, and dropping out of high school are associated with criminality.[1]

Adult behavior

Alcohol and illegal drug use

High alcohol use, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism, as well as high illegal drug use and dependence are positively related to criminality in general.[1]


Early age of first intercourse and more sexual partners are associated with criminality.[1]


Few friends, criminal friends, and gang membership correlate positively with criminality.[1]


High religious involvement, high importance of religion in one's life, membership in an organized religion, and orthodox religious beliefs are associated with less criminality. Areas with higher religious membership have lower crime rates.[1]

Physical health

General morbidity

Criminals probably suffer from more illnesses.[1]


Epilepsy appears to have a positive correlation with criminality.[1]

Accidental injuries

Criminals are more frequently accidentally injured.[1]

Psychological traits

Conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder

Childhood conduct disorder and adult antisocial personality disorder are associated with one another and criminal behavior.[1][3]

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder correlates positively with criminality.[1]

Depression and suicide

Minor depression and probably clinical depression is more likely among offenders. Depression in the family is associated with criminality. Criminals are more likely to be suicidal.[1]


Schizophrenia and criminality appear to be positively correlated.[1][4]

Intelligence quotient and learning disabilities

There is also a relationship between lower IQ and crime.

A learning disability is a substantial discrepancy between IQ and academic performance. It has a relationship to criminal behavior. Slow reading development may be particularly relevant.[1]

Personality traits

Several personality traits are associated with criminality: High impulsivity, high psychoticism, high sensation-seeking, low self control, high aggression in childhood, and low empathy and altruism.[1]

Socioeconomic factors

Higher total socioeconomic status (usually measured using the three variables income (or wealth), occupational level, and years of education) correlate with less crime. Longer education is associated with less crime. Higher income/wealth have a somewhat inconsistent correlation with less crime with the exception of self-report illegal drug use for which there is no relation. Higher parental socioeconomic status probably have an inverse relationship with crime.[1]

High frequency of changing jobs and high frequency of unemployment for a person correlate with criminality.[1]

Somewhat inconsistent evidence indicates that there is a relationship between low income, percentage under the poverty line, few years of education, and high income inequality in an area and more crime in the area.[1]

The relationship between the state of the economy and crime rates is inconsistent among the studies. The same for differences in unemployment between different regions and crime rates. There is a slight tendency in the majority of the studies for higher unemployment rate to be positively associated with crime rates.[1]

Other geographic factors

Cities or counties with larger populations have higher crime rates. Poorly maintained neighborhoods correlate with higher crime rates. High residential mobility is associated with a higher crime rate. More taverns and alcohol stores, as well as more gambling and tourist establishments, in an area are positively related to criminality.[1]

There appears to be higher crime rates in the geographic regions of a country that are closer to the equator.[1]

Weather, season and climate

Crime rates vary with temperature depending on both short-term weather and season. The relationship between the hotter months of summer and a peak in rape and assault seems to be almost universal. For other crimes there are also seasonal or monthly patterns but they are more inconsistent across nations. On the other hand for climate, there is a higher crime rate in the southern US but this largely disappears after non-climatic factors are controlled for.[5]

Victims and fear of crime

Risk of being a crime victim is highest for teens through mid 30s and lowest for the elderly. Fear of crime shows the opposite pattern. Criminals are more often crime victims. Females fear crimes more than males. Black people appear to fear crime more. Black people are more often victims, especially of murder.[1]

Cultural and societal - Specific factors

Media depiction of violence

Media violence research examines whether links between consuming media violence and subsequent aggressive and violent behavior exists.

Gun politics

The effect of gun politics on crime is a controversial research area.


Both legal and illegal drugs are implicated in drug-related crime.

Being an unwanted child

See also: Unintended pregnancy and The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime

Children whose parents did not want to have a child are more likely to grow to be delinquents or commit crimes.[2] Such children are also less likely to succeed in school, and are more likely to live in poverty.[2] They also tend to have lower mother-child relationship quality.[6] Children whose births were unintended are likely to be less mentally and physically healthy during childhood.[7]

Cultural and societal - Broad theories

Rational choice theory

The rational choice theory adopts a utilitarian belief that man is a reasoning actor who weighs means and ends, costs and benefits, and makes a rational choice. Thus, one way for society to prevent crime is by the threat of punishment. The deterrent effect of this is much debated.

Subcultural theory

Subcultural theory are a set of theories arguing that certain groups or subcultures in society have values and attitudes that are conducive to crime and violence.

Social disorganization theory

Social disorganization theory links high crime rates to neighborhood ecological characteristics.

Social learning theory

Social learning theory explain deviancy by combining variables which encouraged delinquency (e.g. the social pressure from delinquent peers) with variables that discouraged delinquency (e.g. the parental response to discovering delinquency in their children).

Differential association

Differential association theory is a theory proposing that through interaction with others, individuals learn the values, attitudes, techniques, and motives for criminal behavior.

Social control theory

Social control theory proposes that exploiting the process of socialization and social learning builds self-control and reduces the inclination to indulge in behavior recognized as antisocial.

Strain theory

Strain theory states that social structures within society may encourage citizens to commit crime.

Labeling theory

Labeling theory holds that deviance is not inherent to an act, but instead focuses on the linguistic tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from norms.

Criminal triad theory

Criminal triad theory is a relatively new theory of criminality that looks at the interplay of three psychosocial developmental processes (attachment, moral development, and identity-formation) in the development of a person's internal deterrence system during adolescence.

Biosocial criminology

Biosocial criminology is an interdisciplinary field that aims to explain crime and antisocial behavior by exploring both biological factors and environmental factors. While contemporary criminology has been dominated by sociological theories, biosocial criminology also recognizes the potential contributions of fields such as genetics, neuropsychology, and evolutionary psychology.[8]

See also

Genetics of aggression


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 1.31 1.32 1.33 1.34 (1 April 2009) Handbook of Crime Correlates, Academic Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Monea J, Thomas A (June 2011). Unintended pregnancy and taxpayer spending. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 43: 88–93.
  3. (2002) Crime: public policies for crime control, ICS Press.
  4. DOI:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.8.1397
    This citation will be automatically completed in the next few minutes. You can jump the queue or expand by hand
  5. J. Mitchell Miller (18 August 2009). 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook, Sage.
  6. Family Planning - Healthy People 2020. URL accessed on 2011-08-18.
  7. Logan C, Holcombe E, Manlove J, et al. (2007 May [cited 2009 Mar 3]). The consequences of unintended childbearing: A white paper.
  8. Kevin M. Beaver and Anthony Walsh. 2011. Biosocial Criminology. Chapter 1 in The Ashgate Research Companion to Biosocial Theories of Crime. 2011. Ashgate.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).