The making of a criminal – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Kanisa George -
Kanisa George –


When we think of crime, very rarely do we consider the criminal mind and what influences it. Beyond the intention or reckless thought that speaks to a perpetrator’s guilty mind, there is a raging debate on whether nature or nurture truly makes a criminal. Unlawful killing rooted in hatred and vengeance has been recorded since the dawn of time, and crimes against women would continue to plague society as long as dominance and power dynamics are in play.

If we are all born into a society where laws and rules prevail, how does one develop a penchant for committing a crime?

The very nature of some crimes would lead many of us to believe that more than a handful of criminals are possessed by the devil. In truth, many societies like TT, where religion is an essential part of socialisation, cite religious deviance and lack of spiritual guidance as the reasons for society’s demise. But although religion is vital for social control, it isn’t usually regarded as the main reason for criminal misconduct.

Criminologists believe that individuals who engage in criminal activity are influenced by a combination of biological, psychological and social/environmental factors. Some individuals may be affected by only one of these factors that acts as the catalyst for one life-defining moment, while others are affected by several at various stages of their lives.

These factors have wide-ranging influence and impact the type of offences one would be more likely to commit, the frequency in which they would commit these crimes and whether they have the potential to reoffend after being punished.

We are all taught at some point in our lives to differentiate between right and wrong. Our ability to properly internalise this principle depends on effective socialisation, which is largely affected by our environment.

One theory suggests that poor housing, lack of proper health care and education hamper socialisation and drive individuals to commit crimes. These factors erode the right versus wrong paradigm, leaving in its wake what some may perceive to be survival of the fittest. In some cases, individuals from these lower-class groups build their subcultural systems that may involve engaging in delinquent conduct, ultimately metamorphosing into criminal activity. This theory takes a holistic view of the community and suggests that neighbourhood dynamics influence crime rather than individual actions.

Interestingly, when a community is defined by a set of socio-economic factors and is marginalised for one reason or another, predetermined labels begin to fester resulting in the stereotype being accepted by the community. One school of criminologists believe that it is easier for some individuals to fit into a mould already set for them by wider society than to fight against social and cultural challenges stacked against them. Instead, they prefer to conform to the negative label ascribed to them by others which sometimes lead them into a life of crime.

Aside from sociological influences, biology largely influences criminal behaviour. According to researchers, individuals exhibiting antisocial behaviour may have an underdeveloped or damaged prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and self-control. This has widely been regarded as an explanation for delinquent behaviour as the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s.

It doesn’t stop there. Scientists believe that another part of the brain that factors into criminal behaviour is the amygdala. This is a central part of the brain’s limbic system, and it is crucial for emotional learning, aversive conditioning, and our response to fear and other emotions. When there is a dysfunction in this part of the brain, it can cause a person to have a limited fear and conditioning response, resulting in a lack of fear for punishment and ultimately would not deter them from committing a crime. Psychologists also fear that imbalanced levels of testosterone, dopamine, and serotonin may contribute to criminal behaviour.

In the end, most people believe that crime is a personal choice and follow the widely regarded classical theory that suggests people think before they proceed with criminal actions. Thus, when one commits a crime, the individual decides that it is advantageous to do so.

Whatever you believe, trying to understand the criminal mind isn’t as straightforward as you may think. And no matter how gruesome or reprehensible an act against another maybe, when the villainous vile is removed, what remains is a man who walked and existed amongst us – a man who society, at some point during his life, failed.