One of the most prevalently found conclusions within the field of criminology, regardless of the society, time period, or geographical location, is the finding that males are more violent and aggressive than females (Wright, Tibbetts & Daigle, 2008). There have been a number of findings within this area that help to explain why males are more violent and aggressive than females. For instance, there is evidence that suggests that levels of testosterone and criminality share a linear relationship. Furthermore, a large percentage of women in prison for violent crimes committed these crimes during their premenstrual cycle when the low levels of estrogen make them more male-like. High levels of testosterone and other androgens have also been found to alter the brain towards risk-taking behaviors and aggression typically exhibited by males. Studies conducted with individuals with chromosomal mutations has shown that the more male-like an individual is on the male/female continuum the more likely they are to exhibit criminal tendencies.
There are also a number of brain structures that have been found to differ between the male and female brain. For starters, the corpus callosum is larger and more bulbous in females than in males (Wright et al., 2008). This size difference is believed to be the reason why females have better connectivity between the two hemispheres of the brain. Females are also able to transfer information between the hemispheres at a higher rate than males. Additionally, males tend to house their language functions within one hemisphere whereas females utilize both hemispheres when storing language skills. It is believed that the ability of females to communicate between hemispheres more effectively may be one of the main reasons why females routinely perform better on verbal tasks and memory skills than males.
Females have also been found to have larger orbital frontal cortices than males (Gur, Gunning-Dixon, Bilker & Gur, 2002). This area of the brain is responsible for modulating emotional behavior. This larger area of cortex has been hypothesized to be the cause of sex differences in emotional processing. More specifically, sex differences in perception, experience, expression and aggression have been linked to the differences in orbital frontal cortex size between males and females. Additional research has shown that the female brain is generally better equipped for receiving, experiencing and recalling emotional experiences. The cingulate gyrus is also responsible for regulating emotions, including aggression, and has been found to be larger in females (Wright et al., 2008). It is believed that this is another reason why females exhibit emotions more effectively and why females are better able to retain emotional events in memory.
The male brain has been found to be more lateralized than the female brain. The female brain bilaterally disperses cognitive functions between the two hemispheres whereas the male brain tends to store cognitive functions within one hemisphere (Wright et al., 2008). This configuration tends to leave the male brain more vulnerable if brain damage occurs. However, the structure of the female brain leaves it more vulnerable to damage caused by recreational drugs that have a stimulating effect. This vulnerability is most likely due to the differences in neurotransmitter interactions and quantities between males and females.
Empathy has also been shown to have profound effects on the likelihood of an individual engaging in criminal activities (Wright et al., 2008). Females tend to have higher levels of empathy than males and it is this characteristic that is believed to account for the large disparity in offending between the sexes. Additionally, males have been shown to be more prideful and have lower levels of self-control than females while females are more likely to have high levels of internal constraints. These factors increase a male’s likelihood of offending while decreasing a female’s likelihood of offending.
Gur, Ruben C., Gunning-Dixon, Faith, Bilker, Warren B., & Gur, Raquel E. (2002). Sex Differences in Temporo-limbic and Frontal Brain Volumes of Healthy Adults. Cerebral Cortex. 12: 998-1003.
Wright, John Paul, Tibbetts, Stephen G., & Daigle, Leah E. (2008). Criminals in the Making Criminality Across the Life Course. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.