With over 2.5 million citizens currently in prison or jail, the United States criminal justice system is constantly grappling with one question: what causes criminal behavior? The search to determine what goes on inside the minds of criminals is an ongoing pursuit, but over the years many researchers have been able to come up with interesting and thought-provoking suggestions as to the origins of criminal behavior.
From Ted Bundy to Jeffrey Dahmer, there have been many public figures that have given criminal profilers much fodder for their research in discovering what makes the criminal mind tick. In most cases, these criminals feel as though they were justified in committing their crimes, and that their victims deserved it.
Many suggest that criminal behavior is formed out of social circumstances. The chasm between the poor and wealthy in society may have a great impact on someone who desires a certain kind of lifestyle that seems to be out of their reach, prompting them to engage in criminal behavior to get what they want. Studies have indicated that, with any race and culture, the segment of that population with the highest incidents of poverty also typically has more criminal behavior.
Social apathy has also been shown to be a common trait amongst criminals; if a person has reason to believe that they can get away with committing a crime without being punished, they are obviously more likely to engage in said criminal behavior. Stress and trauma are also factors that can influence deviant behavior. In many individuals, post-traumatic stress – be it from being a victim of a violent crime or witnessing said activity – can often lead to avoidant behavior, where the individuals exhibit personality traits such as social withdrawal, distrustfulness, and emotional distance. These warning signs often occur early on in life, and are not helped by an all-too-common response of ridicule or negligence from family, friends, and peers. If untreated, this avoidant behavior can lead to more violent behavior.
Some theories exist that the criminal behavior is the end result of physical trauma to the brain. Researchers at the University of Iowa found evidence that suggested damage to the prefrontal cortex early in life could cause antisocial behavior such as delinquency, irresponsibility, and criminal activity. Their research showed that children who suffered damage to that region of their brains before the age of 16 months were not able to follow social and moral codes of conduct in their adult years.
While the investigation into what causes criminal behavior has no solid conclusion as of today, professionals in the field of criminal justice are making strides in discovering how the criminal mind works.