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Why people are bad

Dad's response:

Biological factors. One cannot ignore the biological roots of violence and vice. Sorry to say, but some people are born bad. Certain chromosomal defects (such as XYY chromosomal anomalies) are clearly linked to elevated levels of aggression and criminal behavior. Of cause, this is not a causal relationship - just a statistical correlation. People, not biology, are responsible for criminal behavior. But some people are simply born with much higher potential for violent behavior than others. Certain forms of fetal brain damage during pregnancy or birth, particularly to parts of the brain that are responsible for emotions and for controlling impulses, can also make people more likely to commit violence later in life.

Environment. Social and economic conditions, as well as particular family backgrounds, can facilitate or even promote anti-social behavior and violence. Poverty may directly and indirectly increase the likelihood of anti-social and criminal behavior. Chronic hunger, vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition, drug and alcohol abuse, and environmental pollution (lead, arsenic and other toxic substances) can cause brain damage that increase a person's propensity to become violent. Children growing up in a social environment dominated by gang violence, constant civil war or frequent terrorist attacks, are more likely to behave violently later in life. Certain lifestyles may also be root causes of criminal behavior: Researchers have argued that violent crime rates increase with the share of births to single mothers or the increase in divorce rates. Growing up in a deprived, high-crime neighborhood is also seen as a root cause for a life of crime. Psychologists and psychiatrics often stress a relationship between violence and early childhood experience of violence and callousness in the family.

Gender and age. One of the most powerful predictors of criminal behavior is gender. The vast majority of all violent crimes is committed by men (by the way, this is a clear indicator that biology and genetics play a major role in violence). Particularly, the most horrific and appalling crimes are committed almost exclusively by men. This strongly suggests that genetic factors linked to the Y-chromosome are at least partly responsible for aggressiveness, lack of empathy and violent tendencies. High levels of testosterone have been shown to be positively correlated to criminality. Crime rates also greatly vary by age: Most violent crimes are committed by people age 20 to 35, but gang violence typically involves younger men.

Opportunity. Sometimes people decide to behave in anti-social or criminal ways due to suddenly arising opportunities. During natural disasters, when law enforcement is broken down, people frequently become looters and steal other people's properties. Ordinary men can commit disgusting acts of sexual violence against women and children when they feel unobserved during (business) trips in particular countries. Sex tourism is booming with plane-loads of men flying to Thailand in order to experience hard-core sex in the country's brothels. Pedophiles seem to multiply, since the Internet has greatly facilitated the perpetration of such criminal behavior.

Easy availability of weapons. Some forms of violent behavior are clearly related to a widespread availability of the means to commit such crimes. Gun-related violence is orders of magnitude higher in countries were guns are easily available than in countries were guns are strictly controlled. Aggressive conflicts, which in the United States of America result in manslaughter or murder, typically end in a case of battery, (aggravated) assault or some other, non-lethal crime in Europe where few people possess guns.

Various unknown factors. Researchers have documented numerous other correlates and perhaps root factors of anti-social and criminal behavior. One of the most puzzling arguments is a suggested relationship between certain forms of nutrition and violence. People, who eat a lot of fish supposedly tend to be less violent than people who eat large amounts of meat. Researchers hypothesize that the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may have positive neurological effects (this seems to be supported by the fact that violent crime is very low in Japan, were most people are fond of eating fish.) Other researchers have argued that muscular body type is positively correlated with criminal behavior - particularly sex crimes. There is also the theory that the adding of lead to gas (for cars) has caused an epidemic of crime in the 1960s and early 1970s, before leaded gas was prohibited. There is a strong correlation between crime rates and the lead concentration in the air (from leaded gas). Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, which, in turn, is linked to violence. 



Adrian Raine (2014)
The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime.

Robert D. Hare (1999)
Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.
The Guilford Press

Martha Stout (2006)
The Sociopath Next Door.

Eleanor Payson (2002)
The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the one-way relationship in work, love and family.
Julian Day Publications

In Association with


Context. Sometimes the cultural, social, religious or ethnic background determines what is considered bad or criminal behavior. Female genital mutilation, which is regarded as a benign practice in many traditional societies of Africa - and widely accepted there by men and women - is condemned as a brutal crime in most other parts of the world. For many people in the United States of America the death penalty is a legitimate and justified form of punishment - while most European's would consider it a barbaric, inhumane crime. Many people are convinced that abortion is murder, while many others regard it as a human right of pregnant women. Islamic "Shania law" justifies and, in fact, demands certain legal measures (whipping and amputation of limbs for crimes such as theft and alcohol consumption) that would be abhorrent criminal acts in other legal and cultural systems. There are numerous examples of human behavior considered to be a crime in a particular culture or society, but fully accepted or even glorified in another. In some cultures sexual assaults within marriages are not considered rape but the husband's right to sexual satisfaction.

Media. There is a controversial debate whether frequent consumption of violent movies, computer games and TV shows, as well as intense consumption of violent pornography on the Internet, can cause anti-social and criminal behavior. It seems rather plausible that especially children and young adults who spend many hours of the day in virtual worlds could become desensitized and numb to the pain of real people, which might facilitate cruel and violent behavior.

Finally, it seems that some people just decide to commit crimes - without any discernable biological, psychological, social, economic or other cause. Since human beings have a free will, they can simply decide to lie, threaten, hurt or kill. Some of the most abominable killers have been born into caring middle-class families, were pampered and fed well, received a good education, and had a job and friends. There are people who just enjoy it to degrade, hurt or even torture and kill other human beings.



John R. Lott Jr. (2010)
More Guns, Less Crime. Understanding crime and gun control laws. 3rd Ed.
University of Chicago Press

Daniel W. Websster / Jon S, Vernick (Eds.) (2013)
Reducing Gund Violence in America. Informing policy with evidence and analysis.
Johns Hopkins University Press

James Wilson (2013)
Thinking About Crime
Basic Books

James Q. Wilson / Richard J. Herrnstein (1998)
Crime & Human Nature. the definitive Study of the causes of crime.
Free Press


Lee Ellis / Kevin M. Beaver / John Wright (2009)
Handbook of Crime Correlates.
Academic Press

Robert Nash Parker / Kevin J. McCaffree (2012)
Alcohol and Violence. The Nature of the relationship and the promise of prevention.
Lexington Books

Todd I. Herrenkohl, Eugene Aisenberg et al. (2010)
Violence in Context. Current evidence on risk, protection, and prevention.
Oxford University Press

Richard Rhodes (2000)
Why They Kill. The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist.

In Association with


Copyright 2014, 2015 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved.

Updated: 3 February 2015