Causes of crime: nature and nurture

Nature

Younger people tend to have higher rates of crime. Evidence tells us that the brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25. The part of the brain that is last to develop is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that makes decisions. Some people suggest this means teenagers can be more impulsive and can act without considering the consequences, and that this can make them more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour.

Some people believe that people commit crime because it is in their ‘nature’. There is evidence to suggest that some people are naturally more likely to commit crime. Some research shows that those who commit crime are more likely to get angry or have less understanding of another person's feelings.

Nurture

The nurture argument says that people are more likely to commit crime because of the world around them – i.e. they are living in poverty, drink alcohol or experience peer pressure.

According to the Scottish Prison Service 17th Prisoner Survey (carried out in 2019), prisoners identified the following factors as having contributed to their offending behaviour:

Factors identified by Scottish prisoners as contributing to offending behaviour, by percentage.
FactorPercentage who felt it contributed to offending
Mental health27%
Alcohol misuse24%
Drug misuse24%
Unemployment16%
Family relationships16%
Financial difficulties15%
Lack of support in the community14%
Accommodation type10%
Neighbourhood9%
Peer pressure7%

Deprivation

Deprived areas tend to have higher crime rates, and this suggests that poverty can lead to crime. For example, crime rates are higher in Glasgow City, Dundee City and West Dunbartonshire than East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, and Moray.

Crime rates per 10,000 population in Scotland by Local Authority, 2020-21
Local authorityRecorded crimes per 10,000 population
Dundee City688
Glasgow City682
West Dunbartonshire632
East Dunbartonshire286
Moray264
East Renfrewshire225

Alcohol

Alcohol is a big contributor to crime. When drunk, people may think less about the consequences of their behaviour. They are also less able to control their emotions. In the Scottish Prison Service Prisoner Survey (2019) 40% of prisoners said that they were drunk at the time of their crime.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is a cause of crime among younger people. This is when someone is forced or persuaded to do something they would not normally do. For some types of crime, the peak age of offending is between age 15 and 17.

In interviews carried out in 2016 at Polmont Young Offenders Institude, some young offenders described the powerful effect of peers - especially the influence of older young people - while they were excluded [from school], and the sometimes rapid escalation of substance abuse, violence and offending at that time. They spoke of the impact of broken connections with school but also with out-of school activities and the role models and pro-social pastimes such as football, which that wider community can provide. (Children and Young People in Custody in Scotland).