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Implications of Biological Findings for Criminological Research

NCJ Number
D P Farrington
Date Published
35 pages
This paper argues that criminologists should consider biological variables in considering criminological theories. It reviews advantages and problems of including biological variables in criminology and considers criminologists' often hostile reaction to these variables.
Biological findings are reported from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, a prospective longitudinal survey. Advantages of the use of biological variables are that (1) they are usually measured on interval or ratio scales and are normally distributed; (2) they can be measured with less error than social and psychological variables; and (3) their addition provides multiple methods of measurement. Major problems raised by the measurement of biological variables center on the disapproval of other criminologists, the practical problems of biological measurement outside the laboratory, and legal and ethical concerns. A theoretical criminological model is needed which includes biological and nonbiological variables. A theoretical model could attempt to explain how different factors add to produce criminal acts or tendencies, like a multiple regression equation, or could attempt to explain how different factors interact to produce criminal acts or tendencies, as in a hierarchical clustering technique such as predictive attribute analysis. Criminologists interested in biological variables should aim to explain the development of different kinds of people rather than the occurrence of specific criminal acts. Prospective longitudinal surveys are recommended for the research. One example of prospective One example of prospective longitudinal survey, the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, is discussed. The survey began in 1961-62 and ended in 1980. A total of 411 English males were studied from age 8 to age 25.5. The study investigated the development of crime and delinquency in these subjects. Criticisms of the study methodology are examined. The paper recommends that longitudinal studies should involve cooperation between researchers from different disciplines and frequent measurement of biological and nonbiological variables to investigate the role of both in the development of delinquency and crime. Tabular data and 51 references are included.