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Major Theories of Crime Causation


It is vital to understand both the Choice and Trait theories when comprehending the reasons behind criminal activities among individuals. Understanding both theories is instrumental in understanding how they influence an individual to participate in criminal activities. Of these theories, the traits theories supply the base from which the ranges of possible coping choices arise. By and large, the Trait Theories consider the fact that criminal behavior stems from biological as well as psychosomatic conditions of an individual. These conditions go a long way in influencing the coping strategies, thus eventually resulting in criminal conduct.

The Basic Elements of Rational Cause Theory

Developed in the 18th century by Cesare Becarria, an Italian philosopher and politician, the Rational Cause theory is mainly considered to be the classical school of thought, portraying criminals as deviants (Scott, 2000). According to the theory, the motivation of an offender to commit a criminal offense comes as a result of a personal decision, with the intention of achieving a personal gain. This may be in form of his/her ego being boosted by enticements like power, status, money, or learning (Scott, 2000).

Additionally, the Rational Cause Theory asserts that an offender decides to execute a criminal act after studying the penalties, benefits, as well as the choices at hand. Eventually, an offender prepares for the crime by deliberately making a decision on the type of crime, location of the crime, as well as the target of the crime. The offender then goes on to carry out the crime with the consciousness that it is wrong. Apparently, such an offender has a control to choose to do otherwise.

This basically means that for any crime to take place there must be three elements present. First and foremost, there has to be an availability of a suitable target. Secondly, there must be a motivated offender. Additionally, the theory asserts that there ought to be no authoritative figure to thwart the occurrence of the criminal act (Scott, 2000). According to the Rational Choice Theory, crime has to be calculative as well as intentional. The theory asserts that criminals are usually rational performers who take part in a conscious decision making process. The offense they carry out is supposed to assist them in gaining maximum benefits, with regard to their current state of affairs (Scott, 2000).

On the whole, the Rational Choice Theory affirms that crime can be influenced by chance.  In this regard, an opportunity to carry out a criminal offense is largely connected to risks involved, the cost benefits, as well as the situational circumstance. The type of offense as well as an offender’s access to external benefits also exerts some influence on the individual to carry out a criminal act (Scott, 2000).

Some of the key aspects of an instrumental crime include criminal acts like violation of the traffic, evasion of taxes, robbery, as well as driving while drunk (Scott, 2000). On the other hand, expressive crime is all about crime that has to do with emotions as well as deficiency in coherent judgment (Scott, 2000). This occurs without an offender thinking about what the consequences could entail. In most cases, expressive crime entails criminal acts like assault, manslaughter, and murder.

Consequently, punishment can only be effective when instrumental crime instead of expressive crime, is prevented. According to a study carried out to examine illicit trade involving the sale of tobacco to underage youth, it was revealed that rational mind merchants as well as clerks examine the cost benefits and the factors involving the risks (Scott, 2000). According to the results of study, those involved in the illegal trade always had a reduced sense of risk after police patrols in the evening at 5pm. Consequently, this allowed them sell their goods illegitimately to the immature youth (Scott, 2000).

Basic Elements of Criminological Theory of Earnest A. Hooton

The Criminological Theory of Earnest Hooton, coming from a genetic positivist school of thought, is a Trait Theory that asserts that criminal activity occurs as a result of biologically caused hereditary dynamics (Hooton, 1998). Hooton came up with this theory after carrying out an analysis of the physical character traits of criminals. Being an outstanding anthropologist, Hooton carried out an analysis of body types as well as how they draw a parallel to a number of individuality traits (Hooton, 1998).

The underpinnings of Hooton’s ideas, in relation to the physical weakness of offenders, are revealed in his works (Hooton, 1998). According to him, the development of humanity is not homogeneous. This implies that there has been a discrepancy in the development of diverse subsets of individuals (Hooton, 1998). In his works, Hooton affirms that analogous asymmetrical character traits are not exceptional in contemporary human races; though they are naturally present (Hooton, 1998).

After carrying out measurements on character traits of over ten thousand criminals from ten states in the United States, he concluded that physical characteristics like height growth, the length of the head, the length of the ear, and the height of the nose are significant in determining of the offenders. Several other measurements were taken into account. These included age, marital status, Intelligence Quotient, color of the eyes, as well as race (Hooton, 1998).

After comprehensively carrying out arithmetical tests which were executed over a period of twelve years, Hooton was of the idea that he had discovered that the cause of unlawful or out of the ordinary behavior was physical weakness of offenders, when compared to non-offenders (Hooton, 1998). His findings, which were stratified into a number of psychosomatic, sociological, morphological, as well as pathological areas, resulted in clear portraits of illicit conduct (Hooton, 1998).

According to the results of his findings, criminals were mostly not in matrimony, more often widowed or separated. Additionally, they were greatly mediocre to civilians of a similar cultural origin in terms of educational accomplishments (Hooton, 1998). The aspect of tattooing is also common among criminals. The findings also indicated that criminals were extreme in extractive, laborer, and personal service occupations (Hooton, 1998).

Hooton also noted that most offenders have thinner beards and body hair. They also have more straight and less curled hair, more red brown eyes and less gray and white hair. Additionally, he also noted that there is a deficiency of dark eyes as well as blue eyes in most offenders, while there are many offenders with mixed eyes, which are white blue, and gray (Hooton, 1998).

Similarities and Differences between the Theories

It is very clear that there seems to be no evident similarities between the two theories of crime causation. This is largely because while one asserts that a criminal act is intentional and deliberate, the other suggests that criminal activity results from biologically caused hereditary dynamics (Hooton, 1998). However, there are comprehensible differences between the two theories. For instance, according to the Rational Choice Theory, an offender decides to execute a criminal act after examining the consequences, benefits, as well as the choices at hand.

Additionally, according to this theory, an offender makes a deliberate decision to carry out his criminal acts, while very conscious of the fact that it is wrong, and so there are severe consequences. However, in spite of being well aware of this, the offender still goes on to carry out the criminal act. On the other hand, according to Hooton’s theory, there are particular characteristics of an individual, which are inborn, that causes an individual to carry out criminal acts (Hooton, 1998). This implies that there are particular individuality traits that cause an individual to commit crime. This includes aspects like being widowed, divorce, as well as the I.Q.

Improvements Needed to Enhance the Theories

Concerning Hooton’s extremely large study of criminals as well as their conduct, the design of the samples he used were not actually representative of the particular groups. In this regard, in order to enhance Hooton’s theory, there ought to be proper representation of the respective groups. This is because his picking of prisoners was not really representative. After all, they are criminals who have already been caught, and are therefore insufficient offenders.

Additionally, the sample used by Hooton included members of the forces, outpatients of hospitals, patrons of bath houses, and college students. In this regard, firemen and members of the military ought not to have been included since in most cases, they bear distinguished physical characteristics different from the rest of the average males. In this regard, in order to enhance his theory, it is wise to exclude members of the military as well as the firemen.

On the other hand, the Rational Choice Theory can be enhanced by taking into account the fact that some people may decide to carry out criminal acts that the rest of the society chooses not to do. For instance, an employee stealing from the place of work to purchase groceries considers and examines the options. This however, does not determine that whoever chooses not to steal from the workplace to purchase groceries does not act criminally.


In today’s dynamic society, it is extremely important to understand both the Choice Theory and Trait Theory in crime causation since this is vital in creating strategies that can be used to control or reduce crime in the society. Understanding both theories also goes a long way in considering attempts to control crime under each theoretical school. 

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