Basic Theories of Causation of Criminal Development


This essay focuses on establishing five fundamental theories of the emergence of crime in man. The purpose of the study is to show the factors that influence the development of crime. Literature and theoretical methods of evaluating the material were used as research methods. It is established that the main sociological theories are the theory of control, tension, and social learning. Within the framework of psychological theories, the cognitive-behavioral approach was considered. Within the framework of societal theory, the theory of multiple conditions was evaluated.


Crime occurs when a person violates the current legislation and moral and ethical norms of society. Conditions of criminal behavior arise from the action of environmental factors on a person’s personality, forcing them to commit an offense. In criminology, there is a concept of causality of crime, which reveals the relationship between the cause of the offense and its preconditions. There is a causal link between the criminal act and socially dangerous consequences that lead to some degree of responsibility. From the point of view of materialism, causality is objective and exists independently of human consciousness and will. From the point of view of metaphysics, the establishment of cause is necessary only to indicate functional interactions. It is not entirely clear how the theoretical aspects interact with each other since there is high variability in the factors and their relationship to the criminal act. Nevertheless, five fundamental theories of causality have now been formed that establish precisely how cause leads to effect and why crime occurs as the object of unfriendly behavior.

Purpose of the Essay

This essay aims to establish the factors that influence the development of crime. The analysis of criminal behavior begins with an assessment of the environment in which the person developed and committed the offense. The set goal justifies the need to create a base of theoretical insights and evidence about the relationship between factors and human behavior. In particular, the sociological and psychological theories of causality of crime development will establish what causes criminality and why it develops in a person.

Key Questions

This paper posed the following questions to reach an understanding of crime causation.

  1. What sociological theories justify the causality of crime?
  2. What psychological theories justify crime causation?
  3. What aspects of personality are provoking factors in the development of crime in people?
  4. What societal theory justifies crime causation?
  5. What is the developmental path of crime in people based on a set of theoretical claims?
  6. What development in crime theory can be achieved?


This paper is an essay that includes seven sources. The research methods were the basic theoretical methods, including system analysis, generalization, classification, synthesis, induction, and deduction. Theoretical methods help collect and process information and create a unified structure in the received material. Literary analysis effectively creates a theoretical framework and establishes statements about a particular phenomenon. In view of the specifics of the case study, this method is effective and reliable.

Material and Critique

Several sources were used within the framework of the work, some of which belong to academic articles and others to textbooks. Burt (2020) discusses how self-control theory is formed and its role in crime. Deflem (2018) reveals the characteristics of strain theory and environmental conditions. Mbewu, Obioha, and Mugari (2021) focused on establishing cause and effect in the area of societal influence on the development of crime. Muggah and Tobón (2018) outline the most particular conditions of crime development. Prittchett and Moeller (2022) established the role of boundaries in control theory. Schwarxer and Fransch (2020) formed features of personality traits found in criminals, and Tharshini et al. (2021) confirmed their assumptions. The material is quite extensive and comprehensive on the topic. Nevertheless, there is a focus on the practical application of the theories rather than on explaining relationships. In addition, there are no clear boundaries between the theories, as there is the phenomenon of multiple causes of crime.


First, it is necessary to establish what general scientific concept is inherent in causality. Causality is considered a genetic connection between separate states of species and forms of matter in its movement and development processes. The emergence of any objects and systems and the change of their properties in time have their grounds in the previous states of matter. These bases are called causes, and the changes caused by them are called consequences. Causality has irreversibility, spatial and temporal continuity, and genetic characteristics – links of origin.

Causation of crime, and even more so crime as a relatively mass phenomenon, is associated with many interrelated and unrelated causes. Therefore, the relationship between the cause (a set of causes) and the consequence (crime or crime) is multivalent and has a probabilistic nature. The plurality of causality lies in two main aspects. First, each crime is the result of many causes: for example, according to the theory of conditions, there are always at least two factors that lead to the criminal consequence. Second, each cause may have several consequences, including criminal and even lawful behavior. The probabilistic side of the multiplicity of causality in criminology is that a different result is obtained when one condition is replaced, even for the exact cause. This form of causality is called a statistical regularity, in which the cause determines the consequence not unambiguously but only with a certain degree of probability. Identifying these patterns is part of the work of forensic sociologists and psychologists, who establish and calculate the nature of individual causes of crime.

Sociological Theories

Crime in sociology is a set of social deviations and violations of established norms. Legislation is established based on moral and ethical norms that enshrine basic universal principles of being. Sociological theories of crime explain how emerging social phenomena can lead to the development of criminal behavior in humans. Often sociological theories are related to understanding deviant behavior, which has similar characteristics to criminal behavior. Among all the theories stands out the theory of control, which explains how crime does not originate in a person and why he has the resources to keep themselves within the legal framework and the framework of norms and ethics.

The theory of control indicates that a set of measures restricts people from committing crimes and prevents them from freely engaging in criminal activity. According to this theory, crime exists where there are no barriers to committing anti-legal activities and many opportunities in society (Burt, 2020). It arises because people are free to choose their behavior because society has not created restrictions on crime. Paying attention to the internal level of control is essential, and one’s ideas about norms are additional constraints in committing criminal behavior.

According to the theory, there is direct control, describing the direct punishment for committing a criminal act. It is primarily driven by state and social structures: administration, police, co-workers, family, or friends (Pritchett and Moeller, 2022). Together, they set the rules a person must follow because otherwise, there will be sanctions. Another constraint is the compliance rate – people are less likely to engage in criminal behavior if he or she has social benefits. Decisive factors are the presence of emotional attachment to the benefits and the level of investment to be made in them. Finally, as argued earlier, internal control deters a person from crime regardless of legislation or benefits. For example, a personal affirmation that a crime is wrong is a strong reason not to commit a crime.

Social learning theory describes that crime occurs because a person incorporates communication with others into their information field. Crime occurs because other people influence the person, either intentionally or unintentionally, to engage in criminal behavior. Social connections established with other people lead to the formation of skills and knowledge from which the person can decide whether or not to resort to violence. According to social learning theory, exposure to offenders can lead to a high risk of delinquency.

There are different learning mechanisms: differential reinforcement, persuasion, and moderating. According to differential reinforcement, a person commits a crime because of its encouragement or punishment (Pritchett and Moeller, 2022). Positive reinforcement is that the person receives tangible and intangible benefits for the crime; negative reinforcement is that if the person does not commit a crime, he will receive a condemnation or punishment. Criminal beliefs are based on the idea that not all offenses are knowingly bad: some are acceptable or are committed for good and do not contradict the system of values. Moderation is based on reproducing the behavior of others whose actions are approvable.

Strain theory indicates that criminal behavior is caused by factors that cause a person to experience stress. Committing an illegal act is an attempt to reduce stress and tension and return to an optimal state. In doing so, the tension theory accepts that committing a crime can be justified by the presence of cruel or violent conditions in a person’s life that causes them to commit a crime: for example, molestation or ill-treatment (Mbewu, Obioha and Mugari, 2021). There are two categories of tension: in the first case, someone prevents the person from achieving their goals; in the second case, the person is deprived of something or is negatively affected (Deflem, 2018). According to this theory, the main factors in developing tension due to crime are unbearable living conditions, stressful and negative relationships with peers/family members, financial dependence, and individual susceptibility.

Psychological Theories

Psychological theories are based on an assessment of the individual’s mental health and personality traits that may be predictors of delinquency. The psychodynamic, behavioral, and cognitive theories are usually distinguished. The essay evaluated a combined theory based on analyzing behavioral characteristics and cognitive perception of personality. The multifaceted causes of crime compel a combination of theories to understand better and seek a strategic analysis of criminal behavior.

The cognitive-behavioral theory is formed from conditions that exist as a person develops. A person changes their behavior based on the reactions of others around them (family or society), with the degree of change based on how the person perceives the opinions of others about their behavior (Schwarzer and Frensch, 2020). As with social learning theory, this one also has rewad and punishment mechanisms that guide a person’s abilities to act in one way or another.

The cognitive-behavioral theory is based primarily on how one perceives oneself and the reasons one relates to society. This changes as one matures and one gradually values freedom and well-being instead of simply repeating and encouraging one’s actions (Schwarzer and Frensch, 2020). According to the theory, outside influences that bring the development of perception to a standstill become factors in the development of perception in the individual (Tharshini et al., 2021). Tharshini et al. suggests that low self-control, psychopathy, and stress disorder should be considered the main traits that provoke criminal behavior (2021). In addition, antisocial behavior (the behavioral part of the theory) leads to impaired empathy (the cognitive part), which is the reason for the development of crime. Consequently, cognitive functions and abilities are incomplete, so immoral or criminal behavior sets in, leading to an even more significant delay in the perception of reality.

Societal Theory

Societal theories are a set of theoretical ideas about the person’s relationship with the environment in the context of his behavior. The factors existing in the external environment become the causes of changes in behavior and movement of the person in this or that direction. In the context of crime, development attention is paid to the theory of conditions, which points to specific environmental and social phenomena that induce a person to commit a crime (Mbewu, Obioha and Mugari, 2021). The theory of constraints, first of all, suggests the very nature of causality of crimes: one specific phenomenon does not lead to a legal offense, and to understand the causes of such behavior, it is necessary to analyze at least 2-3 facts (Muggah and Tobón, 2018). This theory is also called the theory of multiple factors, as it points to the heterogeneity of events leading to criminal behavior.

According to the theory of conditions, there are always acts that do not cause consequences. The crime will still be done if they are excluded from the corpus delicti. The existing concept of the necessary condition establishes the necessity of constructing a mental experiment of exclusion (elimination) to verify the involvement of the act in the consequences (Deflem, 2018). It is believed that this expands the objective basis of criminal responsibility, but it is still necessary to consider this theory.


Based on the results, we can conclude that people’s primary developmental path of criminal behavior is based on their perception of the environment. According to sociological theory, triggers and an immoral climate play a role. The cognitive-behavioral theory highlights the perception of one’s behavior in the context of character traits (psychopathy, antisociality). The cognitive-behavioral theory points to the diversity of conditions that lead to criminality.

Reference List

Burt, C. H. (2020) ‘Self-control and crime: beyond Gottfredson and Hirschi’s Theory’, Annual Review of Criminology, 3(1), pp. 43–73.

Deflem, M. (2018) ‘Anomie, strain, and opportunity structure: Robert K. Merton’s paradigm of deviant behavior’, in Triplett, R. A. (eds.). The Handbook of the History and philosophy of criminology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 140-155.

Mbewu, I., Obioha, E. E. and Mugari, I. (2021) Encouraging and discouraging factors to crime reporting in South Africa: a survey of residents’ crime reporting behavior in Mthatha South Africa police service precinct’, Cogent Social Sciences, 7(1).

Muggah, R. and Tobón, K. A. (2018) ‘Theories of crime and violence’, in Citizen security in Latin America: facts and figures. Rio de Janeiro: Igarape Institute, pp. 22–46.

Pritchett, S. and Moeller, K. (2022) ‘Can social bonds and social learning theories help explain radical violent extremism?’, Nordic Journal of Criminology, 23(1), pp. 83-101.

Schwarzer, R. and Frensch, P. A. (2020) Personality, human development, and culture. London: Routledge.

Tharshini, N. K. et al. (2021) ‘The link between individual personality traits and criminality: a systematic review’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(16).

Cite this paper

Select style


LawBirdie. (2023, June 20). Basic Theories of Causation of Criminal Development. Retrieved from


LawBirdie. (2023, June 20). Basic Theories of Causation of Criminal Development.

Work Cited

"Basic Theories of Causation of Criminal Development." LawBirdie, 20 June 2023,


LawBirdie. (2023) 'Basic Theories of Causation of Criminal Development'. 20 June.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Basic Theories of Causation of Criminal Development." June 20, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "Basic Theories of Causation of Criminal Development." June 20, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Basic Theories of Causation of Criminal Development." June 20, 2023.