What is a multiple factor approach?
In order to modify the one-sided attempts to explain crime theories and to focus on the aspect of the versatility of criminal actions, so-called multiple factor approaches were developed. These include the explanation that the presence of several factors identified as relevant leads to an additive reinforcement of the criminogenic threat. Accordingly, the causes of crime are considered from a diversity perspective: A certain event is caused by a certain combination of circumstances.
There are numerous studies that have been developed on the basis of the multifactorial approach. – As early as 1925, Cyril Burt associated crime with 170 different factors. One of the best known researchers in this field is Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, who established prognostic factors through longitudinal studies between 1939 and 1948. The couple was awarded the Beccaria Medal in 1964 for, among other things, their work on predicting crime.
Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck carried out longitudinal studies with a group of 500 juvenile prison inmates and 500 non-criminals aged 11 to 17 years with the aim of making statements about the future social behaviour of juveniles.
Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck conducted a qualitative and quantitative longitudinal study with 1000 male subjects, including 500 inmates of juvenile prisons and 500 inconspicuous, non-criminal boys aged 11 to 17 years. The group of delinquents and the control group were examined for three social factors (1. supervision by the mother – 2. severity of the parenting style – 3. strength of the family cohesion) in order to be able to make statements about the future social behaviour of children/young people on the basis of these data. Thus, they assumed that any factors in the emergence of crime could be identified by summing up environmental influences. The addition of certain factors should show a particularly high correlation. For example, fragile family constellations, persistent disputes between parents and children or their parents, dependence on welfare benefits and state resources, and lack of parental attention, among other things, suggest that the children will later engage in criminal behaviour.
Among many other factors the Gluecks also included biological and psychological explanations for the deviations of their test group. They conclude:
[The delinquents are] less adequate than the non-delinquents in capacity to operate on a fairly efficient level and have less emotional stability … they are more dynamic and energetic, much more aggressive, adventurous, and positively suggestible, as well as stubborn … more inclined to impulsive and non-reflective expression of their energy-drives … Such temperamental equipment is in itself highly suggestive of the causes for their greater inclination to ignore or readily break through the bonds of restriction imposed by custom or law.
(Glueck & Glueck, 1950: 251 f. Here cited after: Newburn, 2017: 138)
The Glueck couple are among the “classics of criminology”, as their multi-factor approach as a large-scale panel study is the first of its kind dedicated to the investigation of delinquent behaviour.
Critical appreciation & relevance
A main area of criticism of the prognosis tables drawn up by the Glueck couple is that they proved reliable only for male extreme groups, suspicious recidivists and highly adapted persons. These would be groups of people who could be identified without a prognosis board anyway. Furthermore, some theorists consider this explanatory approach to have failed because, although it had multi-causality as explanatory content, it could not prove any additive reinforcement.
It becomes clear from the above that the results of the investigations of the couple Glueck do not provide a purely biological-deterministic explanation for delinquent behaviour. Biological factors play a role alongside a number of social factors in their multifactorial model. The classification of the multi-factor approach as a biological crime theory nevertheless appears justified, since its prognosis tables are based on a simplified behaviorist view. Their explanatory model is based on an individual aetiological view, which understands crime as a social disease. With their panel studies, the Glueck couple tried to find a “treatment” for the “sick” offender by (formerly) prosecuting offenders.
- Glueck, E. & Glueck, S. (1950). Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency. New York: The Commonwealth Fund.
- Newburn, T. (2017). Criminology (Third Edition). London, New York: Routledge.