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Individuals thought to be incapable of resisting the impulse to commit crimes except under very favorable circumstances.



Sociological theory of criminal causation that generally refers to a state of normlessness in society.

Anomie Theory


A biological theory of criminal causation developed during the 19th century by Cesare Lombroso. It argued that criminals are anthropological throwbacks to an undeveloped phase in human evolution and that this atavistic quality is indicated by physical abnormalities.



Proponents of empirical, objective approaches of observing and measuring behavior.



Theories that emphasize the belief that offenders differ from nonoffenders in some physiological way.

Biological Theories


A crime-study discipline that views behavior as the product of interaction between a physical environment and a physical organism and holds that contemporary criminology should represent a merger of biology, psychology, and sociology.

Biosocial Criminology


Theoretical school holding that individuals are responsible for their deviant behavior. Punishments for these transgressors should always be proportional and never excessive. This theory was popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and was revived during the late 20th century in the U.S.

Classical Theory


According to this form of therapy, once individuals become conscious of their own thoughts and behaviors and the attitudes, beliefs, and values underlying those thoughts and behaviors, they can make positive changes to each with the assistance of a trained therapist.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)


Theory holding that zones of transition between residential and industrial neighborhoods consistently have the highest rates of crime and delinquency. It is commonly associated with the work of Earnest Burgess.

Concentric-Zone Theory


Schemes that suggest relationships between variables but do not meet the requirements for theory.

Conceptual Schemes


Process of rewarding for appropriate behavior and/or punishing for inappropriate behavior through which any type of social behavior can be taught.



Theories that focus on whole political and economic systems and on class relations in those systems. Conflict theorists argue that conflict is inherent in all societies, not just capitalist societies, and focus on conflict resulting from gender, race, ethnicity, power, and other relationships.

Conflict, Radical, Critical, and Marxist Theories


Theories assuming that all of us must be held in check or controlled if we are to resist the temptation to commit criminal or delinquent acts.

Control Theories


Theory that firm commitment to subcultural values is not necessarily a precursor of delinquent behavior, as argued by Sykes and Matza. Using techniques of neutralization, juveniles drift in and out of the delinquent subculture over time.

Delinquency and Drift


Ancient belief holding that human deviance is the product of evil otherworldly forces such as demons and devils. Remedies included exorcism of the evil spirits, which often involved ordeals of pain.



Punishment alternative based on the fear of swift and severe punishment. In theory, harsh punishment deters individuals who might otherwise be prone to break the law as well as those who have already violated the law.

Deterrence Theory


Approach that focuses on the geographic distribution of delinquency. It is commonly associated with the work of Shaw and McKay.

Ecological/Social Disorganization Approach


Approach to studying crime and delinquency that focuses on women's experiences, typically in the areas of victimization, gender differences in crime, and differential treatment of women by the justice network.



Crime control based on the belief that humans exercise free will and that human behavior results from rationally calculating rewards and costs in terms of pleasure and pain.

Freewill Approach


Three components of the human conscious psyche according to psychoanalytic theory. The id involves instinctual and reactionary impulses, whereas the superego involves the moral sense of self. Both are balanced by the ego, a psychic component that mediates between the two extreme components of the human psyche.

Id, Ego, and Superego


Scenario that where illegitimate opportunities are available, juveniles who are experiencing strain or anomie are attracted to that structure and are likely to become involved in delinquent activities.

Illegitimate Opportunity Structure


Theories that attempt to combine two or more preexisting theories so as to provide more comprehensive explanations for criminal and delinquent behaviors.

Integrated Theories


Theory holding that society's reaction to deviant behavior is crucially important in understanding who becomes labeled as deviant

Labeling Theory


Theory holding that people learn behaviors through various forms of reinforcements, punishments, and social observations.

Learning Theory


Modification of the classical school that occurred during the early 19th century. It recognizes that juveniles and mentally ill adults do not make the same rational choices as do mature sane adults. Therefore, special consideration should be given to these classes of offenders.

Neoclassical Approach


A form of criminology that uses brain imaging techniques to study, predict, and prevent criminal behavior.



Psychological assessment tools examining people's personality characteristics.

Personality Inventories


Study of the shape of the skull.



Deterministic approach to criminality and delinquency. This approach holds that biology, culture, and social experiences can be sources of deviant behavior.

Positivist School of Criminology


Theory involving the notion that people rationally consider the risks and rewards before they commit crimes. It is also called rational choice theory.

Postclassical Theory