Evidently speaking, where biology is concerned we only need to go as far as our textbooks from school to see how genes provide the make up of all life. Genes come from our parents and are the cause and blueprint for every (mal)function within us. But when it comes to the function of emotions, reactions and even the rational thinking within people, how much of this influence is purely genetic? Can family shape us in anyway or is something else entirely responsible for us being different.

Either way no one person is completely identical (twins included). Sarnof Mednick from Denmark argues that a link exists between children and parents not only biologically but also criminally. The behaviour of adopted children was compared with their adoptive and biological parents and a much stronger biological relationship was found. Closing in on a more biological mechanism Mednick and his colleagues claim to have discovered a pattern of inherited autonomic nervous system (ANS) characteristics amongst known offenders.

They say that criminal offenders tend to have an ANS that is less sensitive to environmental stimuli than non-offenders. People with such personalities are slower to respond to external signals and thus are greatly inhibited. In this state of mind, it would not be difficult to express antisocial behaviour. Considering these biological claims, it would seem that criminality originates and expresses itself in the genes. The personality of a person is decided genetically and these traits come from previous generations, i. e. from the same gene pool.

However there is another claim with evidence that states criminality stems from and conveys itself through family life. This too is transmitted generation to generation, but the syndrome discussed is more one of a ‘collection of anti-social dispositions and patterns of behaviour’ than that found in the genes. David Farrington, social-psychological researcher, argues that criminal offending stems from an antisocial personality syndrome that emerges within the family. Although its origins are unclear it appears to be transmitted down the generations – “… roblem children tend to grow up into problem adults and … problem adults tend to produce more problem children”.

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The syndrome is transmitted via poor or inappropriate parenting to their children usually in the form of a troubled family background including alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, truancy and school failure, unemployment, and marital disharmony. Although both these claims provide evidence to suggest why crime occurs, it does not even start to cover the ground of crimes committed by groups.

The fact that people do want to find groups that they fit into, either aspiring to or can see themselves within should be borne in mind. If the group is antisocial, maybe an antisocial person would fit into it, but what of crimes committed by companies. Would it be seen as antisocial of a company if it was committing a crime? This is a question too complex to ask at this stage but as to the basic question of why crime occurs, what explanation has a greater strength, a biological or family background?

The advantage biology has over any psychological analysis (as in the family study) is that numbers, figures, and specific genes can be put in the place of ideas. This would explain why people favour trying to find a solution via this method, i. e. you can look at the result instead of imagine it. However, biologically you can only go so far as to explain criminality. Since the definition of crime is a social factor that relies on social messages around us, (its OK to steal office stationery but not to kill people) it is almost impossible to place criminality genes on people.

Personality traits may be in the genes but socially it depends on where you stand in the crowd IF it’s a crime. The findings of a family study can be considered very reliable since it follows an individual’s life over a long period of time. This idea itself must be followed with caution since it does not consider the criminals that come from a background without family problems. Nor does it consider something so simplistic as the definition of poor parenting. As mentioned before, these rely heavily on social factors.


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