Friday Crime Vids – Born Into a Life of Crime?

Posted: June 28, 2013 in Research
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The nature versus nurture debate has raged on in the fields of psychology and sociology for many years. Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist from the 1800s, believed that people were born into crime. He literally thought there were physical characteristics (such as ear shape) that marked people as law breakers.


His theory was very influential in its time, and it drew a lot of attention from the scientific community for a number of years. Fortunately, it fell out of favor entirely as more and more evidence demonstrated that there was no such thing as a “born criminal.”

Theories based on social factors, such as Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory, came into vogue at the beginning of the twentieth century. In direct opposition to Lombroso, Sutherland believed that criminal behavior was transmitted by family members via social learning, not by genes.

Dr. Vanessa Goodwin, a politician and criminologist from Tasmania, has taken Sutherland’s idea one step further by exploring the connections between gender and the transmission of learned criminal behavior. Her 2011 study,  Crime families: Gender and the intergenerational transfer of crime tendencies,  showed that boys are more susceptible to social learning about crime than are girls.

Her research also supports the notion that intergenerational cycles of crime can be broken by working intensively with families to develop communication and parenting skills. So, being born into a crime-prone family is a risk factor for criminal behavior, but it’s definitely not a life sentence.

Which leads to this week’s vid about crime families, including some of the most prolific in Tasmania and Australia.

Today Tonight: Generations of Crime

What are your thoughts on intergenerational crime? Do you believe the cycle can be broken, or are children who are born into crime-prone families doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents?

Have a safe weekend!

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  1. […] they were once used by Josef Hyrtl to debunk the pseudo-science of phrenology, which I’ve written about before in the context of Lombroso’s theories of […]


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