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In this chapter, we consider how developments in evolutionary theory might be applied to help us understand why some people gravitate toward criminal behavior. Sociologists generally explain the emergence of criminal behavior in terms of responses to unfavorable societal factors. In contrast, social and developmental psychologists explain such behavior as the outcome of the interaction between individual differences and a challenging rearing environment. Evolutionary psychologists, however, bring a whole new perspective to the problem of criminality (Taylor & Workman, 2019). They suggest that evolutionary principles such as kin selection theory, reciprocation, sexual selection, and parental investment theory can provide powerful tools to help explain criminality. Before considering how these principles might be applied, we need first to explore what is meant by the concept of “criminality.”.
Defining criminality and, in particular, what encapsulates criminal behavior is far from straightforward. For a definition of what constitutes criminal behavior and criminality as an underlying cognitive and personality dimension, it is appropriate to adopt a legal approach.
Augustes Comte first coined the term “altruism” as a cornerstone for his ethic doctrine Positivism, describing it as selfless concern for another’s welfare (Sutton, 1982). The existence of altruism and basic human kindness has been heavily debated throughout history, permeating through psychological, philosophical, and theological fields. Early philosophical and religious figures discussed concepts such Saint Augustine’s theory of conscience – that basic human kindness was an innate human feature (Fortin, 1996) – or Thomas Aquinas’ synderesis rule, which states that humans desire to be good and can innately distinguish between right and wrong (Davies, 2014). While these speculations have little or no empirical basis, they do have something in common with more recent research: they view altruism as having an innate component. Augustine and Aquinas attributed God as the innate origin of human altruism. Evolutionary psychologists view altruism as genetically influenced, having arisen, in part, from the Darwinian selective forces of natural and sexual selection.