Rational Choice, Biosocial, and Psychological Theories.html Our coverage of theories begins with a discussion of rational choice. You will want to

Rational Choice, Biosocial, and Psychological Theories.html

Our coverage of theories begins with a discussion of rational choice. You will want to consider if offending is a “rational” activity. By rational we usually mean the use of costs and benefits analysis. Thus, we are less likely to engage in an activity if it is costly and has little reward, but more likely to participate if the costs are low and the benefits are high. The problem with notions of rationality is that some criminal behavior appears to be quite irrational. Among other things, it is difficult to explain as fully rational impulsive behavior and activities performed under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Current perspectives on biosocial theories, in particular brain science, find rational choice theories especially problematic for explaining juvenile delinquency.

One important rational choice theory in juvenile delinquency is deterrence theory. Crime is deterred when punishment is swift, certain and severe. This is a cost-benefit analysis theory because deterrence is likely when the costs of criminal behavior is high in the form of punishment. However, behavior that is impulsive and under the influence of alcohol or drugs, affects the cost-benefit calculus. Juveniles in particular routinely engage in activities where there is little to gain and much to lose.

The section on biosocial theories mentions the work of William Sheldon (1898-1977). His work is famously noted for a methodological mistake that unfortunately many researchers continue to make in the social sciences. Sheldon observed that criminal activity was more common with people who are muscular (mesomorphs), as opposed to those who are thin or fat (ectomorphs and endomorphs, respectively). Sheldon’s mistake was thinking that mesomorphic body type caused criminality. Rather, Sheldon found a correlation between body type and crime. 

Another important methodological mistake was committed by many early biological criminologist. Their research (i.e., autopsies) convinced them that physical defects were responsible for criminality. The problem is that they did not do similar autopsies on people who were not criminals. It turns out that non-criminals have the same physical characteristics. This methodological mistake has been referred to as sampling on the dependent variable. Biological theories today have come a long way since but it remains critical that we consider the implications of these theories and potential policies. Consider, too, how/whether this type of research/theory advances our understanding of juvenile delinquency.

Psychological theories have generally received more attention from sociologists than biological theories. These include identity, cognition, personality, and abnormal traits/propensities. With regard to psychopaths/sociopaths, there is at least some evidence that this kind of personality type (about 1-4% of the population) can be identified through various methods including brain imaging. It should also be said that there are “functional” psychopaths/sociopaths who may not commit criminal acts. Students should consider to what degree labels like psychopaths and sociopaths are scientifically useful especially regarding juveniles.

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