Discuss the impact of environmental factors, in particular crime and trauma, on the psychological development of an individual. Discuss the impact of  ‘nature versus nurture’ in the context of crime, both the perspective of the victim and the criminal.

Essay written by Year 11 student Tori Dowlin of Emmanuel College in Warrnambool

Why do criminals bind themselves to the crimes that they commit? Why is there murder, anguish, and demise? Not only does the crime impact on the victim’s life, it impacts on the entire family. When thought about in further depth, it can even affect the criminal. They could spend their remaining years imprisoned and unable to see their families. They compel themselves to a criminal record, for the rest of their days. To understand why one person could be drawn into the cruelness that humans can become, we must debate about which is the dominant influence in the development of the human being. Hitler is a classic example of the vindictive ways that humans can eventually suffice to, especially after having received a certain authority, which Hitler used to destruct an entire population of Jews.  Was it in his genes, or was he entangled with an environment full of terror, and wrath? Psychologists have been asking these questions for hundreds of years, however, due to certain studies, the answer is slightly clearer. These are discussed further on, in more intensity.

Individuals can develop in four areas, including: physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively. The environment, consisting of all the experiences, objects and events to which an individual is exposed to throughout their entire lifetime and how they can influence development (Grivas & Carter 2010). However, individuals are also influenced by heredity, which involves the transmission of characteristics from biological parents to their offspring via genes at the time of conception (Grivas & Carter 2010). Whether the environment or heredity have a higher impact on an individual’s development and daily behaviour has been studied in many ways, such as through twin studies, adoption studies and longitudinal studies which enables the human race to gain a better understanding of which has the greater influence over a person and their thoughts, feelings and perceptions of their internal and external stimuli.

In previous years, psychologists and psychiatrists had either been in complete agreement with either heredity, or environment as the most influential factor. Now that studies have been conducted, psychologists have been able to come to an agreement. Through these studies, psychologists have been able to acquiesce and specify that individuals may perhaps inherit a certain gene, such as a gene for schizophrenia, conversely, the individual may not experience the mental illness until a stressful life event, or the abuse of alcohol or psychoactive drugs, which can be designated as the environmental influences.

Nonetheless, environment can be a stronger influence on an individual during certain periods in their development, namely, sensitive periods. These occur repeatedly during the pre-natal stage, which is before birth, and involve stages of evident change, where the individual can become more vulnerable to influences from the environment (Grivas & Carter 2010). For an example, in a criminal’s development, the individual may have witnessed a murder, or another form of criminal offence, and have then adopted this behaviour for him or herself, using the criminal they had witnessed, as a role model. The individual may have also adopted this behaviour as they may have been repeatedly exposed to the crime committed (such as violence in the home) and therefore, formed a mere exposure effect, which is the increase in liking for an attitude, object, person, group, event or issue, or in this case, a crime, as a result of being repeatedly exposed to it (Grivas & Carter 2010).

Despite an individual’s repetition of a certain behaviour due to their prior experiences, they can also adopt a reluctance to help a victim of a crime they have witnessed, as a result of the bystander effect, where a collection of people are unlikely to help in a situation where help is required as they have the credence that another person will help. This is a form of anti-social behaviour that can influence a criminal’s development through the environment, and through the people the criminal associates with. The individual may have a fear of appearing foolish in the presence of the others, resulting in a reluctance to help. This is called audience inhibition (Grivas & Carter 2010). The individual may also weigh up the benefits of helping, which is called cost-benefit analysis, and then make the decision to help in the crime, which is being preformed in front of them (Grivas & Carter 2010). Although this is questionable in its impact on an individual’s likeliness to develop into a criminal, it is still relatively possible. These are environmental influences.

In the context, once again, of ‘nature versus nurture’, a person can be born with an aggressive heredity gene, which can influence them to intend to cause physical or psychological harm to another person, animal or object, in their later years (Grivas & Carter 2010). When analyzing a biological perspective of aggression, there is a suggestion that genetic influences can have a strong impact on whether an individual adopts an aggression behaviour from their parent’s transmission of characteristics. For an example, a Finnish psychologist conducted research where the most aggressive mice out of a group had been bred with each other, and the least aggressive mice were also bred with each other, which was then continual for 26 generations. The outcome of the final offspring resulted in aggressive tendencies, even after 26 generations of breeding. The mice that had been bred from aggressive parents had instantaneously assaulted any other mouse that was in the cage too, whereas, the other group of mice, were so imperturbable that they did not defend themselves in any form. (Grivas & Carter 2010) However, once again, this could be criticized in saying that, these rats could also have been watching their parents, and have adopted the behavior as an environmental factor, similar to a criminal and watching violence from parents in the home.

Regardless of this study, individuals can also have overactive segments of the brain, which are responsible for the cause of aggression. These fractions are called the cerebal cortex, amygdala, pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. This can illustrate that nature may possibly be a formidable factor in the development of a criminal. Though the introduction of alcohol and drugs can also stimulate certain biochemicals, which can also intensify the aggression levels in an individual.

So far, this can summarize that heredity and the environment have distinct impacts on the development of the individual and the likeliness of the individual to commit a crime and to traumatize another. Certain studies, such as longitudinal studies, can measure selected characteristics, such as aggression, from infancy, adolescence, and adulthood. These can investigate whether certain characteristics have developed over time, after an individual has been exposed to certain environments and has experienced certain situations, or whether some individuals have been destined with these characteristics since conception.

Further, twin studies can give a larger insight into which is the greater influence, due to the Minnesota Twin Study, which assessed the personality traits of identical twins, and non identical twins, and whether they had developed in the same environment, or whether they had been brought up separately. This is similar to adoption studies, where individuals are brought up in a home different to their biological family, to investigate whether they are more similar to their biological parents, or their adoptive parents. In this particular study, results show that identical twins were similar in every personality trait tested, including aggression, whether they were reared together, or reared apart. (Grivas & Carter 2010)

In conclusion, it would be satisfactory to acknowledge that individuals are very highly genetically influenced, this knowledge emanates from the twin studies, the biological aggression factors and also, the Finnish psychologist experiment on the mice. However, it is also adequate to say that environment also plays a part in the development of an individual and the development of their likeliness to commit certain crimes, though genetics are moderately higher. This can mean that, like the mice, if an individual has parents with overactive sections of their brains, then it can be heredity for the individual who may be likely to commit certain crimes. Though, like mentioned previously, if the individual witnesses and is repeatedly exposed to crimes, especially in the sensitive periods, it is also likely that the individual will adopt this terrible behaviour.

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