Biological theories

The article Alleged king hitter’s criminal record revealed details the alleged assault against a youth in Sydney’s Kings Cross, which subsequently resulted in his death. Shaun McNeil has been charged with murdering the youth, and the article reveals that he previously had a number of assault-related criminal convictions. The incident has been followed by intense campaigning for tougher laws and heavier penalties for those convicted of alcohol-induced violence.

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Cesare Lombroso’s ‘born criminal’ theory articulated that some individuals experience a primitive form of development that is ultimately less evolved than those of non-criminals (Bernard et al 2010, p. 38). Applying the theory of biological indicators of criminal behaviour to all cases of criminal incidences may be problematic. Modern criminologists have generally rejected the notion that biological factors alone can be used to explain criminal behaviour, as it is difficult to ascertain whether biological factors and criminality have a genuine causal relationship (Roque et al 2012, p. 306).

As such, biological theories may be more persuasive when considered in correlation with environmental factors. The environmental factor most relevant to the case of McNeil is alcohol consumption. While there are many possible relationships between violence and alcohol, one of the most convincing explanations is an increase in aggression due to the alcohol-induced reduction of serotonin in the brain (Bernard et al 2010, p. 53). It is likely that alcohol consumption in this case was a contributing factor to the assault. McNeil’s prior criminal convictions are also noteworthy, as there may be a correlation between past violent outbursts and the consumption of alcohol. It is arguable that ‘the acute and chronic effects of alcohol on committing more aggravated assault imply that once a person becomes a violent offender, either drinking before offending or high average alcohol consumption constitute a probable cause for additional violent acts’ (Zhang et al 1997, p. 1270).

Crimes that have some biological basis can be difficult to manage if law and order policies attempt to address the biological factors alone. Addressing the environmental factors that contribute to these crimes is likely to be the most effective approach. Crimes such as this may be managed through the restriction of alcohol sales, a measure that has already been put in place by the New South Wales government. More specifically, such measures should be targeted at high-risk locations, including areas that contain a significant amount of bars and nightclubs and attract a large amount of young people.


Bernard, T, Snipes, J & Gerould, A 2010, Vold’s Theoretical Criminology, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Rocque, M, Welsh, B & Raine, A 2012, ‘Biosocial criminology and modern crime prevention’, Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 40, no. 4, pp. 306-312.

Ross, C 2014, ‘Alleged king hitter’s criminal record revealed’, Nine News, 4 January, viewed 17 March 2014,

Zhang, L, Wieczorek, W & Welt, J 1997, ‘The nexus between alcohol and violent crime’, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, vol. 21, no. 7, pp. 1264-1271.

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