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Vulnerability & Crime: Are some people more prone to break the law than others?


With Netflix taking over the entertainment industry since past few years, we all certainly know about Dexter, an American crime drama mystery television series. By the end of the eight seasons that I watched religiously, I found myself having serious doubts: Was Dexter the villain or the victim?

He is a Miami forensics expert, who spends his days solving crimes, but by the night, he is a butcher, hunting for humans. Orphaned at age three, when his mother was brutally murdered with a chainsaw by drug dealers, Dexter was adopted by Miami police officer Harry Morgan. Recognizing the boy's trauma and the subsequent development of his sociopathic tendencies, Harry has manipulated Dexter to channel his gruesome bloodlust into vigilantism, killing only heinous criminals who slip through the criminal justice system. However, Dexter lives by a strict code of honor, has his specific manner of killing and investigates properly before deciding to kill anyone. Clearly, Dexter did not choose to love blood. More or less, he is a prisoner of his own needs. Can we punish him for a tendency that was uncontrollable to even his own self?

I am writing this article to discuss crime causation and its possible factors like heredity, bio-physical and psychopathic traits; anthropological, physiological, biological and psychiatric forces that develop unusual tendencies in a person to commit crimes under situations in which others do not.


When I think about genetics having a connection with criminality, it reminds me of Lombroso, an Italian criminologist, who spent most of his life believing that there are certain criminals who imbibe criminality by birth. He called such criminals “atavists” and asserted that they could never be changed. He was more like: “It is in their blood!” If we take such an approach in our daily lives, the families are criminals would definitely never have strong social ties.

Fortunately, modern researches have shown that hereditary influences have little effect on criminality. Twin and adoption studies have been used to separate genetic and environmental influences and to assess the contribution that these factors make to their engagement in antisocial behavior. Rhee and Waldman (2002) recently conducted a review of the majority of the twin and adoption studies on antisocial behavior that have been carried out. They found that although genetic background has a strong influence on whether an individual will engage in antisocial behavior, the influence of environmental factors is even stronger. These results highlight the fact that even if individuals have a strong genetic predisposition, they may never engage in any antisocial behaviors if they are not exposed to the necessary environmental factors. Genes only increase the risk. They are not actuating, they only poorly predict the likelihood that an individual will engage in such behavior.

Anatomy & Physique

Can you tell who a criminal is just by looking at them? You may have come across the phrase "pretty is as pretty does." As erratic as it sounds, many criminologists believed that "borrn criminals" could be anatomically identified by such items as a sloping forehead, ears of unusual size, asymmetry of the face, excessive length of arms, asymmetry of the cranium, and other "physical stigmata".

Specific criminals, such as thieves, rapists, and murderers, could be distinguished by specific characteristics. It was also believed that criminals had less sensitivity to pain and touch; more acute sight; a lack of moral sense, including an absence of remorse; more vanity, impulsiveness, vindictiveness, and cruelty; and other manifestations, such as a special criminal argot and the excessive use of tattooing. Lombroso advocated this through his research methods which were clinical and descriptive, with precise details of skull dimension and other measurements.

Della Porta, often considered the first criminologist, examined patients during his medical practice and concluded that appearance and character were related. He approached the study of this relationship from a magico–spiritualistic metaphysical perspective instead of a scientific one, classifying humans on the basis of their resemblance to animals. For example, men who look like donkeys are similar to donkeys in their laziness and stupidity; men who resemble pigs behave like pigs.

Among a lot of other researches, in one recent policy-oriented research that became the basis for the movie Johnny Handsome, surgeons performed plastic surgery to correct deformities and disfigurements on the faces, hands, and arms of hundred physically unattractive men at the time of their release from Rikers Island Jail in New York City. These ex-convicts were matched against a control group of equally unattractive inmates released from the jail who received no reconstructive surgery. When the researchers compared recidivism rates one-year later, those who received the surgery had significantly fewer rearrests. Apparently, improved appearance resulted in improved behavior.

However, these research findings are preliminary and suggestive; more definitive studies using better measurements are needed. In particular, future research should relate ratings of physical attractiveness to the self-reported criminal behavior of persons taken from the general population.

Psycho-physiological & physio-biological built

The levels of arousal within individuals, has become an important biological explanation for antisocial and criminal behavior. Two common psychophysiological measures are heart rate and skin conductance (i.e. sweat rate). Studies have found low resting heart rate in adolescence to be associated with increased risk for criminality in adulthood.

Theories have been proposed to explain how blunted autonomic functioning could increase anti-sociality. Due to their blunted autonomic functioning, are not deterred from criminal behavior because they do not experience appropriate physiological responses to risky or stressful situations nor potential aversive consequences.

While there is evidence that antisocial/criminal individuals typically exhibit abnormal psycho-physiological functioning, it is important to acknowledge that there are different antisocial/criminal subtypes, and they may not share the same deficits. For example, psychopaths who are ‘unsuccessful’ exhibit reduced heart rate during stress while those who are ‘successful’ exhibit autonomic functioning similar to normal humans. This is the reason why psycho-physiological built cannot be a deterministic factor of criminality.

Bio-chemical researches how that hormonal imbalances have an adverse effect on criminality. Adolescents and juveniles are more prone to offences like stealing, vandalism and sexual assaults as they readily fall a prey to the urges of sex and other activities due to their tender age and hormones. Similarly, in people who have malfunctioning endocrine glands, sexual incapability of that person may result into his failure to mature socially and out of sheer disgust and frustration he may resort to criminality. However, even though hormonal imbalances may act as a catalyst by providing a favorable biological environment for crime causation, but criminality cannot be attributed to these imbalances alone. Many people who suffer from glandular abnormalities never resort to deviant behavior.


You must have heard “you are what you eat” a lot of times. Can the food you’re eating make you a criminal? Well, certainly there are chances.

Experimentation with the diets of criminal populations have indicated that reducing intake of refined carbohydrates and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables have significantly decreased behavioral problems and disciplinary write-ups.

What one eats impacts one’s body chemistry. Totally. Complex carbohydrates such as white refined flour, white rice, white refined sugar, and any processed foods with high levels of sugar, are slowly transformed into glucose, which stimulates the production of insulin in the pancreas, which in turn produces energy for the body. Refined carbohydrates are processed rapidly and result in the rapid release of insulin into the bloodstream, causing a sharp decrease in blood sugar, depriving the brain of the glucose necessary for proper functioning.

This sharp decline in blood sugar also triggers the release of hormones such as adrenalin and increases in dopamine. This combination has been associated with increased aggression, irritability, and anxiety.

Individuals who are hypoglycemic experience increased levels of irritability, aggression, and difficulty in controlling their emotional expressions. This condition has successfully been used to mitigate punishment in criminal cases. The most infamous example occurred during the late 1970s when Dan White killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk after consuming nothing but junk food such as Twinkies and soda for several days. At trial, White’s attorney successfully argued that White suffered from “diminished capacity” due to his hypoglycemia. His argument has come to be known as the “Twinkie Defense” and it was a success! Next time you grab those Twinkies, THINK.

So, high-protein foods, such as fish, eggs, meat, and many dairy products, lower the risk of criminality as many aggressive behaviors may be controlled with a diet higher in protein and lower in refined carbohydrates.

Mental Illnesses & Disorders

Do you ever get tired of scrolling past a number of posts about mental health and question what all the hype is about? Well, it is worth it.

Many mental illnesses incapacitate a person to correctly evaluate his perceptions, which leads to him creating different versions of reality in his head. The symptoms of such disorders are delusions, hallucinations, disturbed mood, incoherent speech, jealousy, withdrawal from normal activities, Disregard for right and wrong, persistent lying or deceit to exploit others, being callous, cynical and disrespectful of others, sing charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or personal pleasure, impulsiveness, hostility, lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others. poor or abusive relationships, Failure to consider the negative consequences of behavior or learn from them, Being consistently irresponsible and repeatedly failing to fulfill work or financial obligations, etc

They may attack an innocent person in a fit of hallucination and might have imagined that person t have provoked them. Crazy, right?

Borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder, and other personality disorders often manifest in aggression or violence. When a personality disorder occurs in conjunction with another psychiatric disorder, the combination may also increase risk of violent behavior. Our beloved Dexter has nothing but Schizoid Personality Disorder which he hides very well, a mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and certainly post-traumatic stress disorder. Is he a villain or the victim who is compelled to kill?

Many individuals with mental illness face an uphill battle when trying to access mental health treatment. Many individuals do not receive the appropriate and timely treatment needed. Some never identify it.


Hands down, some people are more vulnerable to criminality than others. Biological, anthropological, psychiatric and psychological, socio-cultural environment factors play a crucial role in crime causation. That has a to mitigate their punishment.

But the fact remains that despite extensive efforts to search reasons for crime causation, the answers are not in black and white. A human being is complex, his behavior is even more complex. But with as much as we have civilized, we have come a long way. From punishing people with banishment, mutilation, flogging, stoning, and other barbaric punishments, we have now shifted our approach towards corrective and rehabilitative measures. Earlier, “why” a crime took place was not the question. Today, this “why” has gained a lot of importance. We can expect penological advancements in the future, since both law and science are adopting a more intensive approach to crimes.

Authored by Marina Nasreen, a fourth year law student at University of Kashmir, an intern at S. Bhambri Associates.

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