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Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency
Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency

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2 Studying the causes of juvenile delinquency

Social scientists have used a number of approaches to try and explain why young people misbehave. Some researchers have focused on the individual’s personality, while other researchers have looked at different factors that might influence individuals to commit crime, such as their family background. The theories that focus on why some individuals may be more likely than others to commit crimes are called micro theories. Approaches that examine the immediate family or social context are called meso-level theories, while those that examine larger social or structural conditions are called macro-level theories. The social sciences often distinguish between these different levels of analysing things.

The following sections will focus on the work of psychologists who developed theories to try and understand why some people behave in deviant ways, and even commit crimes, as compared to those who do not. Sections 2.1 to 2.3 look at early research that focused specifically on the individual’s personality, without exploring other factors that may influence a person to behave in a deviant or antisocial manner. The next section explores not only personality factors, but also other influences that may affect whether a person will become a delinquent and commit crimes, such as family circumstances and living conditions.