What Leads to Criminal Behavior?
En Español (Spanish Version)

There are certain symptoms like short attention span, lack of impulse control, and poor home life that are likely predictors of criminal behavior. What other factors may lead a person to break the law?

Some researchers believe that the hormone testosterone plays a role in criminal behavior. This hormone, which is responsible for male physical characteristics and behavior traits, such as aggression and impulsivity, floods the bodies of adolescent boys. As a result, some boys go through an adolescent delinquent period, although most do not go on to pursue a life of crime. Those who do become criminals are influenced by other factors, such as psychological qualities.

Antisocial Personality Disorder
One common type of career criminal is the person with antisocial personality disorder—also called sociopathy or psychopathy. This disorder is characterized by a lack of conscience, inability to empathize with victims, manipulative behavior, and pathological lying.

What causes a person to become antisocial? It seems that both genetics and the environment play a role. Certain factors in the home may increase a child's risk, such as being abused or neglected. While there are therapy programs and medications available to help with other conditions like depression, antisocial personality disorder is challenging to treat, especially considering that the person may also have an alcohol or drug abuse problem.

Other Factors
Researchers are also particularly interested in why people commit violent crime. Studies have shown that juveniles and adults who were abused as children are more likely to be arrested for committing a violent act. Some, but not all, evidence supports the idea that having a history of head trauma is associated with violence. What does seem clear is that the factors that lead a person to violence are very complex, involving genetics, the environment, and issues relating to physical and mental health. Early intervention may be the key to lowering a child's risk of committing a crime as a teen or as an adult.


National Institute of Mental Health

Canadian Mental Health Association

Canadian Psychiatric Association

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Quick facts about the bureau of prisons. Federal Bureau of Prisons website. Available at: http://www.bop.gov/news/quick.jsp#2. Updated August 24, 2013. Accessed September 12, 2013.

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Risk and protective factors of child delinquency. National Criminal Justice Reference Service website. Available at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/193409.pdf. Published April 2003. Accessed September 12, 2013.

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Last Reviewed September 2013

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