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Criminology is a sensitive subject of study that primarily addresses issues related to crime as a substantive concern (Sandra, 2007). However, compared to other areas of study such as sociology (social relationship) or psychology (individuals) which have distinctive concerns, criminology appears to be a cross-cutting subject. In this context, criminology as a discipline is inhabited by varying professionals such as medical practitioners, academics, policymakers, psychiatrist, and sociologists among others. Each area of study plays a unique role in criminology. As a result, criminology is a multidisciplinary study rather than a single discipline study is it is observed in various disciplines in the human learning system.

In criminology, understanding why people engage in criminal activities forms the foundation of the discipline. It is suggested that understanding the factors that drive an individual to commit a crime enables one to know the approach to handle and prevent the same offense. As criminology involves a broad range of disciplines, numerous theories have been formulated to understand the causes and best strategies that can be used to reduce ultimately various types and levels of crime (Schmalleger, 2014).  These theories range from sociological, biological to psychological theories. This paper seeks to compare and contrast the viewpoints on the causes of crime based on biological and psychological theories. Specifically, the paper will analyze the similarity and differences in phrenology and psychoanalytic theories.

Brief Description of Biological and Psychological Theories

Biological theories perceive the causes of crime based on the notion that an individual’s behavior to engage in criminal activities is influenced by traits in his/her physical body. Such features include hormonal composition, the brain structure, inherited genes, and evolutionary factors among others. From biological theories perspective, an individual mind is perceived as the center of personality that highly controls the human behavior (Schmalleger, 2014). Contrary, psychological theories analyze the causes of crime by establishing the relationship between the offense and developmental factors, individual personality, cognition, social factors among others. Psychological theories link parenting role with the development of individual characteristics which profoundly influences one’s involvement in the crime. The parenting role is perceived regarding child rearing practices, neglect, attachment, supervision, abuse among others. In this context, psychological theories assert that deviant behavior is encouraged by negative features such as poor impulse regulation, functional personality traits, immature personality and emotional arousal (Schmalleger, 2014). Supportive parenting practices prepare an individual to shun from engaging in antisocial behaviors such alcohol and substance abuse, that encourages one to indulge in criminal activities.

Similarities Between Phrenology Theory (Biological) and Psychoanalytic Theory (Psychological)

Phrenology formed the foundation for the establishment of the biological school of criminology as it was one of the earliest biological methods. Phrenology was primarily involved in the study of how an individual head is shaped by examining and measuring the bumps on their skull. A central hypothesis of phrenology was that the shape of human head acts as an indicator of an individual’s personality and can be used to predict their criminality in the long run (Tibbetts & Hemmens, 2009). Crime in phrenology theory is perceived in the form of the tendency of vicious propensity whose degrees of intensity vary from one person to the shape of their skull which determines their personality.  In this context, viewpoints of phrenology theory correlate with the premise of psychoanalytic theory in psychological theories of criminology. In psychoanalytic theory, Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud asserted that human personality is a component of three part structure. Among the three, the id forms the essential part of humans’ mental makeup according to the psychoanalytic theory (Siegel, 2010). The id is innate where every individual has a perfect drive to biological functions such as food consumption, sexual pleasure among others. In this context, both theories agree that some human behaviors arise from the personality that one acquired at birth and controlled in a particular part of the brain.

Phrenology theory also suggests that portions of the human brain that have matured well usually makes the personality traits related to them to become prominent. For instance, in the Dutch fiddler case, two murderers involved were observed to have a protuberance that was well developed in the same spot on their skulls (Siegel, 2010). In this context, a particular portion of human brain appears to direct individuals to engage in destructive propensity behaviors that lead to the death of the victims involved such as pinch, break, cut, scratch among others. The capacity of the phrenology theory to relate criminal actions between two or more behaviors made it gain prestige in the United States as it was used to classify and evaluate new prisoners. The uniformity portrayed in Phrenology theory can also be observed in psychoanalytic theory. Criminal behavior, according to psychoanalysis arises from inadequacies in the perpetrator’s personality. Inadequacy in personality is a consistent behavior that is observable in many individuals. In this context, psychoanalytic asserts that both criminals and law abiding citizens who are socially adjusted shares the impulse to commit crimes such as steal, murder among others (James, 2004). This suggests that the problems that criminals ought to resolve to have to be also settled by the noncriminal in the society.

Finally, phrenology perceives brain as an organ of the mind that is not rigid. According to phrenology theory, the brain is malleable and capable of change depending on the situation and social setup. In this context, criminals can merge their determinism together with an optimistic approach to crime and other social drawbacks without initiating a sense of a disadvantage (Siegel, 2010). In this context, the premises of phrenology theory align with psychoanalytic theory. Psychoanalytic analysis acknowledges that the human mind is also influenced by external environment (Schmalleger, 2014). In this context, human beings attempt to adapt to the environment they reside in by looking for alternatives that might include involving in crime.

Differences Between Phrenology Theory and Psychoanalytic Theory

Phrenology as a biological theory solely believed that human behaviors and mental capacity correlates with the shape of one’s head (Schmalleger, 2014). In this context, the shape of an individual skull is perceived as an indicative of their brain that eventually influences the personality of an individual. In contrast, psychoanalytic theory recognizes human nature as a component that has a three-part structure (Sandra, 2007). While the mental makeup (brain) which is presented as an id forms the essential part of human personality, it does not solely determines one personality as it is in the case of phrenology theory. The id is observed to seek for instant gratification without being concerned with the rights of others.

Phrenology theory was also perceived human personality as a product of a particular portion of the human brain rather than the entire organ. The theory asserted that certain aspects of an individual personality arise from a specific location in the human brain. For instance, the bumps on the skull of an individual highly facilitated to the development of one’s desire to kill that are irresistible. As that particular part of the brain mature up, the personality traits that are associated with it eventually becomes concrete. In this context, an individual was observed to develop strong desire cause harm such as a fierce impulsion to destroy (Tibbetts & Hemmens, 2009). In contrast, the psychoanalytic theory perceives the development of an individual’s personality as a product of entire brain rather than a portion of it. In this context, maturation of human brain tends to define one’s behaviors and is usually observed via the id aspect of human personality. The cognitive capacity of the human mind is perceived as an inborn trait that grows over time (Schmalleger, 2014). In the long run, an individual develops a personality that can be manifested in socially acceptable or unacceptable manner. The manifestation of one’s personality in a way that is not socially acceptable will encourage an individual to indulge in criminal activities.

Phrenology hypothesized that the brain is comprised of 27 independent organs that defined one’s personality. Moreover, phrenology theory asserted that the first 19 of the bodies in the brain were not only present in humans, but also in the other animal species (Schmalleger, 2014). For instance, phrenology theorists believed that even animals of same species vary in their propensity to kill. In this context, phrenology approach applied to both human beings and animals. In this regards, the premises of this theory differed with the viewpoints of psychoanalytic theory. The psychoanalytic theory only applies to the human beings, not animals. For instance, the psychoanalytic theory asserts that parenting practices highly determines the personality of an individual in later stages of life. While some animals portray a simple parenting role, their parenting has a little or no influence on an animal’s personality. On the other hand, parenting in human beings is a complex practice where borrowed and inherited traits are observable in the later stages.


The above discussion shows that criminology is a multidisciplinary subject that cut across several fields such as sociology, psychology, biology among others. Each field involved in psychology has a distinctive approach to determine the causes of crime and possible options to resolve it. The theories that are used to shed light on criminology have both similarities and differences. As the paper narrowed its focus to address phrenology and psychoanalytic theory, several similarities remain prevalent. First, both theories perceive that the brain is a central component that determines once personality. In this context, phrenology asserts that the mind resembles the shape of the skull while psychoanalytic views brain as an organ that determines one’s cognitive growth.  Secondly, both theories believe in relative uniformity in the behaviors of individual members of the society. In this context, phrenology observed that murderers had a similar spot in a certain location in their skull while psychoanalytic asserts that criminals and noncriminals tend to share impulses to commit the crime. Thirdly, both theories perceive the brain as the organ that is not rigid.

However, phrenology asserts that the brain is the sole factor that influences personality while psychoanalytic sees the character as a component of id, ego, and superego. Besides, phrenology perceives personality as a product of a specific portion of the brain while psychoanalytic perceives personality as a product of the entire brain. Finally, phrenology theory applied to both humans and animals while psychoanalytic theory solely applies to human beings only.



James, M. (2004). Understanding psychology and crime: Perspectives on theory and action. London: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Sandra, W. (2007). Understanding criminology: Current theoretical debates. London: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Schmalleger, L. (2014). Criminology 2ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Higher Education Inc.

Siegel, L. (2010). Criminology: The core. New York: Cengage Learning.

Tibbetts, S. G., & Hemmens, C. (2009). Criminological theory: A text/reader. New York: SAGE.


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