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Genetic and Social Bond Theories in Criminology Essay

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Updated: Nov 10th, 2020


In the course of studying crime, both scientists and criminologists have enlisted scientific methods. These methods have given rise to several hypotheses, some of which have become proven theories. In the study of criminology, the questions of why, how, and when are important to the understanding of the causation factors of crime. Another key element within theories of crime causation is gaining an understanding of the factors that differentiate law-abiding citizens from criminals. Consequently, there are several theories of crime causation, and they are often categorized as economic, political, or biological in nature. Some of the most common theories include Strain Theory, Control Theory, and Labeling Theory. This paper addresses two theories of crime causation, namely Social Bond Theory and Genetic Theory. The essay offers an in-depth look into the two theories and also their similarities and differences.

Overview of the Theories

The Social Bond theory was first forwarded in 1969 by Travis Hirschi, but later contributors have changed it into social control theory. The Social Bond theory has been applied to various social issues and their manifestation as a crime. This theory of crime causation addresses “elements of social bonding including attachment to families, commitment to social norms, involvement in activities, and the belief that these things are important” (Akers, 2013, p. 43). The defining factor in the Social Bond theory is the element of connection between peers and peer groups in a manner that suggests involvement, attachment, and commitment. However, the Social Bond theory posits that the same bonds that result in socially acceptable behaviors are also inspiring criminal activities. Another prominent element of this theory is the common value-system within a certain group of individuals. Social bonds are important to Hirschi’s theory, including parental figures, school-formed bonds, and other types of social attachments. The combination of the social bonds that are outlined in this theory contributes to shaping people’s behaviors. These pro-social attachments have the ability to control an individual’s behavior even when they are not active. For example, some people will feel overly self-conscious about littering even if no one can see them.

The Genetic theory of crime causation proposes that there is an active link between a person’s genes and his/her criminal tendencies. The Genetic Theory of crime has been a subject of debate since its inception, with most of this debate happened in in the 1980s and the 1990s. Other scientists have also proposed that there is a connection between a person’s physical traits and his/her susceptibility to criminal activities (Cheung & Heine, 2015). Although the Genetic Theory of crime is not socially popular, various studies have successfully proved its hypothesis. Opponents of this theory argue that criminality is not the trait that is carried in the genes, but it is the other accompanying traits such as substance abuse. Therefore, other criminal causal factors are responsible for genetic crime factors, and they are also more likely to be manifested when other socio-economic crime factors are present. The genetic theory was inspired by eugenic trials of the Nazi regime, and this fact has contributed to its unpopularity. However, advancements in the study of genetics have renewed interest in this theory of criminology and social behaviors. Eventually, the initial resistance to Genetic Theory has been replaced with a healthy curiosity towards its main hypothesis. In modern times, the media, lawyers, and other criminology stakeholders have developed some interest in the genetic factors in crime, including known genetic disorders.

Similarities Between Theoretical Proposals

The basis of Genetic Theory is biological, but the basis for Social Bond theory is social psychology. However, even though these theories have a different basis, they also bear striking similarities. One similarity between the two theories has something to do with their element of attachment. Social Bond theory proposes that the earliest form of attachment for human beings is often parental, where a child’s worldview is modeled around that of the parents (McShane, 2013). On the other hand, the Genetic Theory proposes that humans can explicitly inherit criminal tendencies from their parents. The parental connection might take different forms in both theories, but they are present. Therefore, the concept of attachment is evident in the two theories.

The Genetic Theory proposes a crime connection that cannot be influenced by external factors. On the other hand, the Social Bond Theory proposes a crime connection that can be easily manipulated by external forces. According to Genetic Theory, children inherit criminal tendencies from their biological parents, and nothing can change this dynamic. However, it is important to note that biological tendencies are a permanent development, while the four elements of Social Bond Theory are mostly temporary factors. Moreover, as an extension of this difference, when considering criminality, both socially bonded and genetic criminals are subject to a certain level of empathy from the criminal justice system. However, the rectification process of genetic criminals would be quite different from that of socially influenced offenders. It would be up to the criminology stakeholders to interpret how to deal with genetic criminals without misinterpretations.

One striking difference between the two theories is that while they all allude to a sense of belonging, only one makes social accommodations. Hirschi’s theory suggests that social bonds can be the source of a person’s strengths or weaknesses. On the other hand, the genetic theory proposes that a person’s social accommodations are of little significance to his overall behavioral wellbeing. Critics of Social Bond Theory have pointed out that the theory has oversimplified social engagements and their contribution to social behavior. On the other hand, Genetic Theory has been criticized for oversimplifying the element of genetics in relation to criminal behavior. According to critics, “criminal behavior has a genetic basis, but many other factors that are not necessarily considered when theorists are making their conclusions” (Gajos, Beaver, Gertz, & Bratton, 2014, p. 369).

Although the two theories are considered simplistic, their levels and manifestations of simplicity are different. Eventually, the two theories stand in stark contrast to each other, whereby they create a nature versus nurture debate. Social Bond Theory supports the idea that crime is caused by nurture, while Genetic theory proposes that negative human behavior is a result of nature. Nevertheless, research dictates that most stakeholders explicitly favor the element of nurture in their consideration of criminal behavior (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 2016). Interestingly, the infrastructure of the criminal justice system does not favor any of these theories in an exclusive manner. For example, jails are places where criminals enjoy strong social bonds, although they are taken there to reform their behaviors. On the other hand, genetic aspects cannot serve as a basis for setting criminals free.

Theoretical Improvements

One theoretical improvement that applies to Social Bond Theory is the fact that it does not accommodate a variety of social settings. The research for this study was conducted in the society that existed in America between 1950 and 1960s. Therefore, the theory fails to accommodate modern American society with its various familial lifestyles (Jones, Lynam, & Piquero, 2015). New research should focus on bonds as opposed to ‘blueprinted’ social structures. This approach will eliminate the different outcomes that are occasioned from one case to another.

It is important for Genetic Theory Researchers to focus on the intricate relationships between social and economic factors. However, a comprehensive research study on the relationship between genetics and criminal behavior would be logistically challenging. Therefore, researchers can take a case-by-case approach before identifying recurring or emerging patterns. This research design would also incorporate modern literature on biological studies. It is important to note that the element of genes in the causation of crime might be more or less significant than it was earlier thought.


Both genetic and social bond theories are active components of criminology scholarships. Furthermore, there are elements of parental involvement in both theories, although one of these instances is voluntary, while the other is involuntary. The two theories differ in their different nature versus nurture stances and how they contribute towards criminal behaviors in society. Both of these theories are subject to additional research that matches scientific and social developments.


Akers, R. L. (2013). Criminological theories: Introduction and evaluation. London, UK: Routledge.

Cheung, B. Y., & Heine, S. J. (2015). The double-edged sword of genetic accounts of criminality causal attributions from genetic ascriptions affects legal decision making. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(12), 1723-1738.

Gajos, J. M., Beaver, K. M., Gertz, M., & Bratton, J. (2014). Public opinion of genetic and neuropsychological contributors to criminal involvement. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 25(3), 368-385.

Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (2016). The criminal career perspective as an explanation of crime and a guide to crime control policy: The view from general theories of crime. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 53(3), 406-419.

Jones, S., Lynam, D. R., & Piquero, A. R. (2015). Substance use, personality, and inhibitors were testing Hirschi’s predictions about the reconceptualization of self-control. Crime & Delinquency, 61(4), 538-558.

McShane, M. (2013). An introduction to criminological theory. London, UK: Routledge.

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