What Leads to Criminal Behavior?

HCA image for AIDS and dementiaThere are certain symptoms like short attention span, lack of impulse control, and poor home life that are likely predictors of criminal behavior. But there are other factors that may lead a person to break the law.

Testosterone    TOP

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    TOP

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.

It seems that both genetics and the environment play a role in the development of antisocial personality disorder. 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    TOP

Researchers are also 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 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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Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 9/12/2013

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