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    Blame the Individual: Teen Brains Aren't Wired for Criminality, Cultures Are

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    Across the Western world, teenagers commit crimes at far higher rates than adults. Typically, this is attributed to biology – the tendency of younger generations to take risks and break rules – but Penn State University criminologists studying crime statistics believe culture plays a pivotal role in motivating felonious behavior among juveniles.

    The researchers used arrest data from the Taiwan Criminal Investigation Bureau of Police Administration Agency, and compared it with information from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

    They examined violent crimes, such as robbery and assault, as well as nonviolent crime, such as theft and fraud — and found Taiwan's adolescent crime patterns differed significantly from those seen in most western countries.

    In the US, a much more individualistic society, involvement in crime tends to peak in middle to late teens and then declines — however, in Taiwan, which has more of a collectivist culture with less separation between generations, crime rates do not dramatically peak. Participation in most crimes in Taiwan tends to reach a high point when individuals are in their late 20s or early 30s.

    According to the researchers, if crime and age patterns are the same across cultures, that would suggest the age-crime relationship is a pre-programmed behavior driven by biology and neurobiology, but as the differences between Taiwanese and American crime rates indicates, cultural factors are likely also be important influences. The conclusion suggests a greater amount of human flexibility than traditional theories would indicate.

    In Taiwan, parents are more active in supervising children, and there are significant social penalties for nonconformity — teens there are less likely to emphasize autonomy and fun, and engage in behaviors different from, or opposed to, adults. Deviance is viewed as too risky to future success in attending a good school or finding a good job.

    However, while parental and school supervision and involvement are extensive during adolescence, this is significantly reduced after children graduate from high school, leaving 18 year olds and above more greatly exposed to deviant or criminal messages.

    Murder
    The researchers believe the way societies eventually integrate youth into the world of adults also plays a large role in age-crime patterns — different countries have differences in age-graded norms and integration of youth with adult society in ways that lead to differences in extent of adolescent crime and the age-crime association.

    To understand such diversified mechanisms of the age-crime relationship and provide policy suggestions for reducing the high adolescent concentration of criminal offending in the US and other Western countries, the team intends to study age-specific crime data in other states, in order to provide more cross-cultural comparisons.

    The findings are significant, as traditional notions that biology influences high teen crime rates often informs policies on punishment, crime prevention and rehabilitation — the assumption teen brains are wired for crime often means harsher sentences are imposed on young people, as a "short, sharp shock" to deter them from further wrongdoing. Conversely, young offenders may get meager sentences in the belief they're less responsible and thus less blameworthy.

    ​If the researchers are correct, it will add to an already large body of psychological theories that seek to explain crime.

    Often, crime is attributes to biological factors such as genetics, hormones, brain chemistry and brain structure and anatomy — much of these theses are based on studies of twins, which show identical twins are more likely to share criminal tendencies than non-identical (or fraternal) twins.

    This was the case even when identical twins were separated at birth — so environments and upbringing would not necessarily have been factors in dictating criminal behavior. 

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    Tags:
    neurobiology, criminal psychology, teenagers, crime, family, psychology, society, culture, Penn State University, United States, Taiwan
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