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Evolutionary Theory and Criminal Behaviour

NCJ Number
Legal and Criminological Psychology Volume: 7 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2002 Pages: 1-13
Vernon L. Quinsey
Date Published
February 2002
14 pages
This article describes evolutionary psychology and how it applies to the psychology of criminal and antisocial behavior.
Evolutionary theories seek explanations of criminal behavior involving ultimate causes of species typical characteristics. Ultimate causes are the features of ancestral environments that selected particular characteristics observable in present populations through their historical relationship with differential reproductive success. These are distinguished from proximal causes, which are the mechanisms that produce the characteristic in the present environment. Selectionist evolutionary thinking is applied to five areas: the relationship of age and sex to crime, the inverse correlation between degree of kinship and homicide, pedophilia, persistent antisociality, and sexual coercion. Crimes of violence are most frequently committed by males against other males; homicides are often committed by young men of poor socioeconomic prospects. These two facts support an interpretation that crime is fundamentally related to inter-male competition that has its ultimate roots in reproductive rivalry. Two predictions concerning perceived crime severity can be derived from evolutionary theory: (1) crimes are viewed as more serious if the victim is genetically related to the perpetrator; and sexual coercion should be perceived as more serious the closer the genetic relationship of victim and perpetrator, especially if the victim is a female of fertile age. Evolutionary theorists have suggested that genes responsible for the class of persistently antisocial individuals are maintained in the population by frequency-dependent selection. An evolutionary view of heterosexual relationships suggest that men and women both compete and compromise with each other because their reproductive interests are not always the same. The divergence of the reproductive interests of men and women is best shown by male sexual coercion, which circumvents female choice by definition. The goal of evolutionary psychology is to provide an explanation of criminal behavior that is consistent with the unifying theory of the life sciences. 84 references