This is a short essay I wrote on the use of sociobiology versus behavior theory. Admittedly it isn’t my most brilliant essay, but it still stands up. To date I’m still a fan of attachment theory, a theory in the school of behavior theories, particularly when considering sociopathy/psychopathy, although I’ve broadened my criminological approaches since this paper was written.
Human beings are an extremely complex organism. The brain is able to compute far more information than the fastest of super computers and a veritable pharmaceutical company within every human being works tirelessly to provide the body with needed chemicals for the myriad of processes that are occur within. Even the minutest of cells is composed of dozens of machines far more advanced than any man made nanotechnology allows. Every process works together to ensure the functioning of the human body.
When attempting to analyze crime causation, the complexity of the human body greatly hinders the formation of theories. The best analogy would be a desktop computer as it has many pieces of hardware that fit together like the many organs of a body, and it has software that provides logic just as humans have a brain; if any part of the hardware is broken or misconfigured, or were the software to have been programmed improperly the computer would not operate properly. In much the same way, if the body does not provide the proper amount of chemicals, or if the brain has learned improper response patterns, then the human in question may not display normative behaviors.
In the field of criminology, criminologists have recognized the body and the mind as two potential points from which deviant behavior may begin. The wise criminologist, recognizing the human being for the complex entity that it is, understands that it is crucial to understand the diverse theories pertaining to the many points of failure possible within the human organism.
For this comparison I have chosen sociobiology and behavior theory as I believe each has it’s merits, and each contributes to a wider understanding of methods in which the body or mind could increase likelihood of deviance.
Sociobiology was coined by E. O. Wilson and founded primarily upon the principles of Darwinism (Stanford, 2005). While I consider the notion of Darwinian evolution unlikely due to a level of complexity found within even the simplest of processes which occur in human beings, such as the dozens of processes which occur to prevent the human body from bleeding to death due to simple scratches, it does have much to offer criminologists and the study of deviant behavior.
Sociobiology posits that there are genetic predispositions toward behaviors such as territoriality or the preservation of ones own offspring (Schmalleger, 2007). There are multiple areas where territoriality erupts into violence. Gangs are an obvious example of territorial disputes regularly erupting in violence (Schmalleger, 2007). Another example requires broadening the concept of territory to that of possessions and intimate partners.
Often crimes will occur as a result of infidelity, larceny, or vandalism. Who hasn’t heard tales of jilted lovers returning to exact revenge on the individual who ‘stole’ their significant other? It may very well be that sociobiology is the best currently known method of explaining these types of crimes.
Unfortunately, sociobiology does not effectively address learned behaviors. Another criticism of sociobiology is that although humans may have certain instinctive tendencies, humans are distinctive from other creatures and thus it is ill advised to derive theories of crime causation based upon observed behaviors of primates or other animals.
Behavior theory can be traced back to the work of Pavlov; however, it was B. F. Skinner who worked the concepts of operant behavior into a theory of crime causation (Schmalleger, 2007). Behavior theory posits that crime is the result of individuals receiving positive stimulus for antisocial acts (Schmalleger, 2007).
This particular theory has much to offer in terms of explaining early developmental deviance. Many parents already realize that rewarding desirable behavior while punishing undesirable behavior is an effective tool in preventing future deviance from children.
One area where behavior theory shows a great deal of promise would be the study of video games in relation to deviant behavior. Games such as Grand Theft Auto reward players for antisocial behaviors such as murder, theft, and involvement in organized crime. Given the amount of time an average teenager plays games such as Grand Theft Auto, it is not surprising that a percentage of those individuals begin exhibiting antisocial behaviors within their real lives.
Behavior theory can be criticised for not taking into account subcultures where receiving punishment is considered a badge of honor (Schmalleger, 2007). The actions of martyrs, who believe they are acting for a higher power, are also difficult to deter despite the amount of negative stimulus received (Schmalleger, 2007).
Sociobiology and behavior theory hold completely different views on the causation of deviant behavior. Fortunately, they should not be viewed as opposing theories, but rather as diagnostic tools for two points of failure within the human machine. Certain types of deviance are better explained by behavior theory, such as violence stemming from hours of video game violence that rewards players. While others such as violence stemming from the incursion of strangers into another’s domain, will be better explained by sociobiology.
Although they may gravitate toward a particular one, I believe a seasoned criminologist recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of theories within each of the theoretical schools and develops complimentary hypotheses based on the most likely point of origin for crime causation, whether that be within the individual’s biology, psychology, or social setting.
Schmalleger, F (2007). Criminology today: An integrative introduction. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Stanford, (2005, November 21). Sociobiology. Retrieved July 12, 2009, from Sociobiology (Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy) Web site: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sociobiology/