Contextual variability in biopsychosocial pathways to violent offending

Publication Date05 Nov 2018
AuthorDanielle M. Fenimore,Wesley G. Jennings
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology,Sociology,Sociology of crime & law,Deviant behaviour,Public policy & environmental management,Policing,Criminal justice
Contextual variability in biopsychosocial
pathways to violent offending
Danielle M. Fenimore and Wesley G. Jennings
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to use data from the Longitudinal Study of Violent Criminal Behavior
in the USA to examine case configurations of violent behavior using a biopsychosocial framework.
Specifically, the theory posits that arguably all behavior is the result of specific combinations of
biopsychological (individual) and sociocultural (environmental) characteristics that are interacting within the
individual. With regard to criminal and violent behavior, the theoretical assumption is that this maladaptive
behavior is the result of a negative interaction between the biopsychological and sociocultural factors.
Design/methodology/approach The study design consists of secondary data analysis. A conjunctive
analysis of case configurations was performed using data from the Longitudinal Survey of Violent Criminal
Behavior to formally explore the tenets of Cortés and Gattis (1972) biopsychosocial theory.
Findings The results suggest that there are main effects for ego strength, family problems, family
incohesiveness and underachievement as they relate to offending. A possible six-way interaction was also
identified within the case configurations that provides empirical support for Cortés and Gattis (1972)
biopsychosocial theory of deviance.
Originality/value The present study contributes to the existing biopsychosocial literature by providing
insight on the contextual variability in pathways to violent offending. Specifically, the evidence provided
indicates that Cortés and Gattis (1972) biopsychosocial theory of deviance can be extended to comparing
violent and non-violent offenders. Implications for policy and practice are also discussed.
Keywords Risk factors, Violence, Violent offending, Biopsychosocial theory, Conjunctive analysis,
Offender typologies
Paper type Research paper
Violent crime has decreased by approximately half over the last 30 years since reaching its peak
in the early 1990s at more than 700 violent crimes per 100,000 population (Friedman et al., 2017;
Sumner et al., 2015). Normal fluctuations have occurred in the years since. However,
a noticeable increase in violent crime has been observed over the last two years (Friedman et al.,
2017; Williams, 2017), with the national violent crime rates having been estimated to have
climbed over 6 percent between 2015 and 2016 (Friedman et al., 2017). Such findings have
understandably created concern that violent crime rates may again be following an upward trend
toward rates that have not been reported for over 20 years. While this likely does not substantiate
claims that current policies are no longer effective, it does provide an opportunity to examine
violent crime using new techniques and technologies that have previously been unavailable.
In this vein, interdisciplinary models that combine biological, psychological and social risk factors for
explaining violence have not received a significant amount of attention in the criminological literature.
In fact, only recently has such a framework gained popularity due to its ability to unite disparate
theoretical approaches to crime and deviance under a unified framework (Boutwell et al., 2015).
Boutwell et al. (2015) argue that such an approach will organize consistent patterns in the data and
promote continued scientific progress in the field of criminology. Boutwell et al. (2015) have also
further indicated that such a unified framework is possible so long as it accounts for offending
variation in race, sex, age, offending typologies, genetic influences and neighborhood influences.
The current study answers this call by using both a biopsychosocial theory that has purposefully
attempted to unite disparate theoretical approaches to consider all factors contributing to crime and
deviance, and a relying on a data set constructed using a biopsychosocial framework.
Received 29 March 2018
Revised 27 July 2018
Accepted 27 July 2018
Danielle M. Fenimore and
Wesley G. Jennings are both
based at the Texas State
University, San Marcos,
Texas, USA.
DOI 10.1108/JCP-03-2018-0014 VOL. 8 NO. 4 2018, pp. 249-264, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829
PAG E 24 9
The paper is structured as follows: first, a brief review of the literature is provided focusing on
research that has investigated the causes of violent offending, with a specific focus on existing
research that has used a biopsychosocial framework. This is followed by an explanation of
the biopsychosocial framework developed and originally tested by Cortés and Gatti (1972). The
theoretical section is emphasized for two reasons: the first being that no formal test of this theory
has been made to the authorsknowledge and the second being that this framework guided
the selection of variables to include in the analysis. The subsequent section is devoted to the
development of the conjunctive analysis of case configurations (CACC) analytical method.
The data source and analytical strategy are then described, followed by the results of the
analyses. Finally, the paper ends with a discussion of the findings and the policy implications
derived from examining paths to violence through a biopsychosocial lens.
Literature review
Biopsychosocial approaches to aggression and crime are not necessarily a novelty, though it
appears to have origins in explaining and addressing human health and illness, prior to its
application to behavior. The biopsychosocial model was originally developed as a holistic
alternative to existing biomedical practices. Although George Engels conception of the
biopsychosocial model was meant to address issues with dehumanization and the
disempowerment of patients, the underlying concept was that myopic approaches to
research, using only the tools and narrow lenses of individual fields, resulted in findings that
were lacking important components that can only come from the use of interdisciplinary
approaches (Borrell-Carrió et al., 2004).
Consistent with this philosophy, Cortés and Gatti (1972) indicated that traditional models of
deviance and violence often do not account for the fact that not everyone with shared
experiences become offenders and suggested that not all paths to deviance and violence are the
same for every individual. Though common risk factors for general deviance and violence have
been identified in the existing literature (see Jennings and Reingle, 2012), there is little opportunity
to develop and test a model that is capable of testing higher order interactions within these causal
frameworks to determine if there are indeed different pathways to violence. Such a model was
developed and tested for the current study.
Nevertheless,there is evidence in the literature thatindicates that research using theseframeworks
has been publishedfor nearly 50 years (Berman, 1997). The primary focus of thisresearch was to
investigate howimmutable, biological traits, contextual variation and individual differencesresulted
in variationof human behavior and such theoreticalperspectives posit that using a singleapproach
alone is not sufficient to explain thisvariation (Berman, 1997; Borrell-Carrió et al., 2004; Cortésand
Gatti, 1972). There is currently a dearth of literaturethat tests biopsychosocial theories,potentially
due to the lack of cross-discipline training and the amount of complexity for which such models
must account (Berman,1997; McKenry et al., 1995). However,there is little denying the plausibility
of models that account for all sources of behavior.
A consistent finding within this research is that a cumulative effect of risk factors is often indicative
of violence. Specifically, the more risk factors that an individual experiences result in a higher risk
of violence later. Similar findings have been reported for protective factors as well (Andershed
et al., 2016). In medicine, such approaches address the interactive nature of these disciplines by
labeling them as systems models to highlight the multiplicative effects that these interacting
factors have (McDaniel et al., 1992; McKenry et al., 1995).
Modern biosocial criminology theories indicate that increases in the knowledge of behavioral
genetics consistently demonstrates that the environment plays an importantrole in the expression
of thosegenes that are responsiblefor behavioral expression(Baker et al., 2006;Walsh and Beaver,
2009). Theenvironmentindividualinteraction should be examinedwhen it comes to understanding
the causes of differences in individual criminal behaviors (Baker et al., 2006) and, specifically,
violence.However, although more modernresearch of the biosocial perspective of criminality exist,
the centraltenets and empirical findingsof biosocial criminologysupport the notion ofan interaction
between the individual and the environment using a comprehensive theoretical perspective
that considers biological, social and psychological predictors of violence (Baker et al., 2006;
VOL. 8 NO. 4 2018

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