In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Biosocial Criminology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Behavioral Genetics
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Brain Structure and Function
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Addiction
  • Gene and Environment Correlations and Interactions
  • Biological Insults
  • Family Socialization Influences
  • Sex Differences

Criminology Biosocial Criminology
John Paul Wright
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0015


Biological and genetic processes are believed to underlie many of the individual traits associated with persistent criminal conduct. Personality factors, such as neuroticism, mental disorders, and deficiencies in self-regulation have all been associated with biological and genetic functioning. Biological differences between individuals also help to explain why people exposed to similar environments, such as poverty, develop along different trajectories. That is, biology appears to make some individuals susceptible to certain environmental conditions while protecting others. In certain limited instances, biological factors may explain the behaviors of some individuals, such as psychopaths, but in most instances biological processes interact and correlate with environmental conditions. Commonly referred to as “gene X environment interactions” and “gene by environment correlates,” these processes highlight the complexity of human development in general, and criminal behavior specifically.

General Overviews

An overview of biosocial criminology can be found in Beaver 2009. His work contains up-to-date information on the biological and environmental variables and processes associated with antisocial behavior. Rowe’s 2002 now-classic introduction of biology and crime provides a broad overview of how biological and genetic factors influence crime. Walsh 2002 reviews evidence linking biological factors to criminal behavior and shows how biological factors can be used to supplement and specify traditional criminological theories. Robinson 2004 provides an integrated perspective on the development of criminal conduct. Wright, et al. 2007 examines the origins, development, and maintenance of criminality over the life-course. Finally, Fishbein 2000 provides a collection of scholarly chapters examining the evidence linking genetic factors to a range of problem behaviors, including alcoholism, drug abuse, and serial killing. Fishbein 2000 also contains important chapters on the treatment of criminal and problematic behaviors.

  • Beaver, Kevin M. 2009. Biosocial criminology: A primer. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

    Clear explanation of biological and genetic research findings on criminal behavior. Contains information on research methodology in biosocial criminology.

  • Fishbein, Diana, ed. 2000. The science, treatment, and prevention of antisocial behaviors: Application to the criminal justice system. Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.

    A compilation of chapters from some of the most published scholars in the field of biosocial criminology. The book is far ranging in its coverage and scientific in its approach.

  • Robinson, Matthew B. 2004. Why crime? An integrated systems theory of antisocial behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

    Provides an example of how biological factors can be integrated into a coherent, multilevel explanation of antisocial behavior.

  • Rowe, David C. 2002. Biology and crime. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

    Written by an early proponent of biological influences on criminal conduct, this book provides an easy to understand overview of biological theory and findings as they relate to misconduct.

  • Walsh, Anthony. 2002. Biosocial criminology: Introduction and integration. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.

    An overview of research into the biological and genetic factors associated with criminal conduct with a focus on the integration of these factors into contemporary theories of crime.

  • Wright, John Paul, Stephen G. Tibbetts, and Leah E. Daigle. 2007. Criminals in the making: Criminality across the life course. Los Angeles: Sage.

    Examines the origins of criminal propensity, arguing that criminality emerges from the complex interactions that occur between the brain and the immediate environment. Traces criminality across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

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