The Weaknesses and Strengths of Criminal Behavior Theories - Essay Prowess

The Weaknesses and Strengths of Criminal Behavior Theories


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The Weaknesses and Strengths of Criminal Behavior Theories

The study of criminal behavior helps people to comprehend the nature of offenders, why they commit crimes, and their thinking. Understanding these aspects allow people to predict future actions as well as develop inhibitory approaches (Matsueda, 2017). The study of criminal behavior has also allowed scholars to determine the factors that shape offenders’ comportment into committing crimes, hence the development of psychological, biological, and sociological theories (Schram & Tibbetts, 2013). The models look at the internal and external aspects which cause people to commit crimes. Although all three theories study human behavior, they have different weaknesses and strengths.

Theories on Criminal Behavior


Psychological theory to criminal behavior involves considering the traits of individuals. Schram and Tibbetts (2013) contend that psychological theories focus on how people’s experiences, personality types or traits, and emotional adjustments influence their criminal behavior. For instance, the psychoanalytic perspective as postulated by Sigmund Freud seeks to understand hidden elements in a person’s being that eventually result in the commission of crimes (Schram & Tibbetts, 2013). It observed that the sources of crime generally depended on a criminal’s superego which predisposes them to crime. However, it is apparent that crime is a facet of all human societies which means that causation of crime cannot be simply resigned to the individual.  


            Theorists like James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein attributed biological factors to an individual’s propensity to commit crime (Schram & Tibbetts, 2013). These include gender, body type, IQ levels and impulsiveness. Other factors include hereditary traits as well as pathological causes. This meant that individual physiological dissimilarities in behavior served as a basis to result in certain persons committing crime (Schram & Tibbetts, 2013). One weakness associated with this theoretical standpoint is that environmental factors such as unequal wealth distribution subjected particular people groups to instigate crimes against others. 


The sociological theory holds that societal aspects such as low levels of education, poverty, drug abuse, and affiliation of subgroups influence individuals to crime. According to Schram and Tibbetts (2013), models based on sociological theory focus on factors that influence wrongdoers instead of aspects unique to an individual. For instance, people with lower educational backgrounds tend to diminish the purpose of legal prohibitions and norms (Schram & Tibbetts, 2013). However, it is clear that even within such circumstances, there are those people who avoid engaging in criminal activities (Matsueda, 2017). Conversely, there are those persons who are privy to social benefits unavailable to some yet engage in criminal activities.

The Preferred Theory

Psychological theories of criminality focus on the underlying attributes occurring within a person that predispose them to engaging in crime. This particular theory overpowers the sociological perspective since there are instances where persons from privileged groups commit criminal offenses while others from biased groupings opt to steadfastly ascribe to law and order (Helfgott, 2015). This implies that motivations to engage in crime are more from individual motivations as opposed to environmental factors.   

Theory Mostly Used Today

There are overlaps between personality and social theories on criminal behavior that offer more flexible and robust explanation. The social learning theory underscores that criminal behavior is best observed from a social standpoint (Helfgott, 2015). For instance, there are situations in the environment that reinforce criminal behavior or otherwise eliminate it. It has proven a potent theory to apply in contemporary society as it also supports the case for rehabilitation of convicted offenders.


All the theories fall under the positivism school of thought, which looks at the behavior of people. The biological and psychological perspectives are more concerned with the individual traits that compel one to engage in crime. Conversely, the sociological viewpoints appreciate that people are products of the environments and that criminals are made as opposed to being born. It is for this reason that the sociological theories are widely used todays for they also support rehabilitation of criminal offenders for later re-introduction into society.


Helfgott, J. B. (2015). Criminal behavior and the copycat effect: Literature review and theoretical framework for empirical investigation. Aggression and violent behavior22, 46-64.

Matsueda, R. L. (2017). Social structure, culture, and crime: Assessing Kornhauser’s challenge to criminology. In Challenging Criminological Theory (pp. 123-150). New York, USA: Routledge.

Schram, P. J., & Tibbetts, S. G. (2013). Psychological/trait theories of crime. In Introduction to Criminology: Why Do They Do It? (pp. 137-161). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishing.

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