Link between Crime and the IQ of Offenders

Crime and deviance are part of society and the definition of its causes could be helpful in addressing it. Crime is any act that goes against the written criminal laws of a region and thus crimes vary in their magnitude in different societies. There are, however, some crimes that are universally condemned since they disrupt social order and functioning.[1]  Some research has suggested that there is a link between crime and the intelligence quotient (IQ) of offenders.

The intelligence of an individual helps them to act purposefully, think with rationality, deal with issues, and relate to people. The intelligence of an individual is linked to his/her culture and it determines their ability to attain success in the culture. However, other researchers have suggested that crime is a product of the socioeconomic conditions in which the individual finds himself/herself[2]. The link between IQ and crime could help identify groups that are vulnerable to committing crime and thus establish control measures that would reduce the probability of this from occurring.

The IQ is a number that is obtained from standardized tests that are used to measure the intelligence of an individual. The IQ is useful in comparing the intelligence of different people though controversy surrounds their design and content. In 1916, Lewis Terman introduced the concept of IQ and recommended the use of a scale from 0 to above 140, which would represent the intelligence of an individual. The test figure was such that a high figure meant higher intelligence. He recommended a score of below 79 to represent deficiency, 80 to 89 to represent dullness, 90 to 109 as being representative of normal or average intelligence, 110 to 119 to represent superior intelligence, 120 to 140 as representing very superior intelligence, and over 140 as being genius or near genius[3].

The IQ in a population is distributed according to the Gaussian curve with those who have a high IQ as well as those with a low IQ being low in number. The number of those with an average IQ is high with 68% of the population being 15 points above or below the population average of 100. In addition, 96% of the population has an IQ of between 70 and 130[4]. However, it has been suggested that IQ tests are not representative of the total intelligence of an individual since they usually measure the spatial reasoning, logical ability, and the understanding of languages[5]. The tests are usually given in a certain language, which brings about a barrier for those who are not competent in the language. The IQ tests are thus not very adequate in testing individuals since they may have biases and they do not measure such parameters as experience, wisdom, or unique personal abilities. IQ tests are also subject to racial biases since different cultures have different preoccupations and thus dissimilar intelligences in certain areas[6].

However, despite these shortcomings, the measure is useful in study since general intelligence could be measured using the IQ and comparisons could be made between different individuals and any correlations that exist used to bring about positive changes. The test has been shown to be a good predictor of the ability of an individual to attain success in life and good at describing academic performance. The test could therefore be used to show if there is any relationship between the intelligence level of an individual and their inclination towards crime.

The view that education affects intelligence positively has had empirical support. In addition, it has been shown that crime is related to the level of education of an individual and that with a lower education, intelligence, and coping skills, one is likely to be more prone to violent behavior[7]. The relationship between education and the social behavior of the individual is affected by their academic ability and performance.

It has been hypothesized that, if an individual performs highly academically, he/she is likely to be pro-social and would follow the edicts of society. Those who have a high IQ are likely to have greater financial success, high self-esteem, and a greater locus of control. They are, therefore, likely to be indisposed towards criminal activities unlike those who perform weakly in academics which suggests a low IQ and are seen as likely to have anti-social characteristics. This is because they would have low self-esteem because of their low achievement and lack of success. From research, the relationship between IQ and criminal behavior has been show to be negative. This means that as the IQ increases, the disposition towards criminality reduces and vise versa[8].

Many findings from research show a reduced IQ in criminal offenders when compared to the general population. The offenders have an average of about 91 to 93 while the general population has an IQ of about 100. However, the general public has in its midst some undiscovered offenders and some experts put the difference between offenders and non-offenders at about 10 to 14 points. According to the Jail Bulletin, ordinary crimes which are often opportunistic and impulsive are mostly committed by individuals with IQs lower than 93. In addition, the social-economic condition of the individual has been posited as a better descriptor of the individual’s predisposition towards crime since it is related to both the rate of crime and intelligence of individuals[9].

However, this is not true since at each socioeconomic level, offenders are found to have lower IQ levels. In addition, among those with the same IQ levels, the ones from lower social-economic backgrounds usually have a greater chance of committing more crimes. Therefore, both the social-economic factors and intelligence of the individual contribute independently to the individual’s disposition towards crime. In IQ tests, both verbal and non-verbal abilities are tested. The verbal part consists of arithmetic ability and vocabulary while the non-verbal part consists of spatial reasoning and speed in coming up with answers to puzzles. The IQ test is constructed such that an average individual would have the same score for the verbal as well as the non-verbal portions. However, it has been observed that offenders have less ability in their verbal tests when compared to the non-verbal tests[10].

This disparity between the verbal and the non-verbal abilities is called an intellectual imbalance and it may be the reason for their increased criminal behavior since they would unable to communicate with others. This could lead to failure in school or in the work environment, since communication is the means by which one shares their frustrations. Therefore, due a build in these frustrations, the individual may resort to untoward behavior as a coping mechanism. In addition, it could impair the individual’s ability come up with internal standards of conducting themselves and following them thus increasing their predilection towards crime[11]. The interpersonal-maturity level of the criminals was also shown to be reliant on the verbal IQ of the individual. This is true for males – who are more likely to commit crimes than women – owing to a variety of reasons. However, with age, the relation between the two slowly lessened[12].

The fact that there are many offenders with lower IQ could be explained by several factors. It could be that there are as many high IQ offenders as there are low IQ offenders but the low IQ offenders are caught faster and more often. The high IQ individuals could also have a better moral reasoning ability and they could be able to see the consequences and thus plan for them or avoid them. In addition, it could be that the link between the two is simply evidence for the fact that criminality and social-economic conditions are linked. The low IQ of individuals may also have them prefer undemanding company-which is usually in the lower echelons of society- and would lead them towards criminal activities. This is especially true if the individual were to drop out of school and associate with individuals who are not socially straight[13]. Lower IQ may also mean that the individual will use internal speech, more which would bring about more impulsiveness and thus an increased likelihood of committing crimes[14].

There are also other facts that, if coupled with low intelligence, could contribute to an increased disposition towards crime. This includes temperament and personality of the individual. Temperament is identifiable early on the individual’s childhood, consists of the emotional response to stimuli, and is habitual. The differences in the temperament of individuals is largely due to the genetic heritage of the individual which governs the physiological arousal patterns experienced by the individual since the genes determine the kind of nervous system an individual has[15]. The personality of the individual is the enduring characteristic psychological disposition of an individual, which is the product of the individual’s interaction with their environment that is made up of their cultural experiences as well as their personal ones[16].

In studies carried out by Robert Goodman on about 300 children, it was established that lower IQ was indeed linked to conduct problems. This showed the importance of IQ since their ages were about 5 to 16 and they had not yet had pressure for being under-achievers. In addition, he found a correlation between the IQ and emotional development, immaturity, and difficulties in relating with others. In the study, he found that those with conduct problems had IQs that were lower by about ten points when compared to those who had emotional problems alone[17]. This shows the importance of the IQ, as a determiner of an individual’s influence to becoming a criminal. According to Goodman, knowledge about the IQ could help institute preventive measures for vulnerable groups. Research has shown that the IQ of children can be improved simply by improving their diet and treating children with elevated levels of lead[18]. These have been shown to work and, when coupled with methods that are more direct, are likely to yield even better results.

Aggression is a factor that is responsible for many crimes. In a study by Peter Giancola and Amos Zeichner, it was suggested that low IQ and aggression are strongly linked even in people who were not involved in criminal behavior. The study was carried out on males who were told they were competing with an unseen individual on their ability to react. Either the participants would receive an electric shock or they would deliver one to their opponents if they won. In the experiment, it was found out that those who had a lower IQ were prone to getting angry faster and they would deliver a stronger electric shock to their opponent even if the opponent had given them a smaller electric shock. Therefore, the study showed that high IQ could act as a protective agent against crime especially that which was linked to aggression[19].

It has been shown that the level of intelligence of an individual as described by his/her results from IQ tests is useful in describing various social outcomes. The use of IQ tests as predictors of academic outcomes for an individual is quite accurate but the accuracy of predicting other things such as job performance and criminality is lower in accuracy. However, it is the only measure that is useful for such predictions and, with additions and fine-tuning, could become an important tool for addressing crime in future.

The type of crime committed by an individual is also related to the intelligence of an individual. This is especially true for white-collar crimes, which can be very complicated and thus would need an intelligent individual to carry out. Crimes such as embezzlement, bribery, price- fixing and tax evasion schemes are carried out by high IQ individuals. Low intelligence individuals could also not have access to the facilities for carrying out such crimes and thus are limited by their lack of education since the crimes include elaborate frauds and sophisticated stealing methods.  These crimes, however, are rare since the individuals who are capable of carrying them out are usually highly remunerated and have a high social standing they stand to lose if caught. In addition, their high intelligence would enable them to plan for consequences and erect elaborate arrangements for counteraction if caught. The complexity of such schemes may also ensure that they are not caught.

Low intelligence individuals, however, are more likely to commit common crimes such as robbery and petty thefts. In addition, they are more likely to commit violent crimes. This is because they do not have a proper methodology for analyzing situations and their possible outcomes. They are therefore more likely to get angry and rash out without thinking about the consequences. Since lower intelligence individuals are found in the lower strata of society, they have less to lose if they were caught committing a crime and the possible rewards they would get from such a crime would give them an added incentive towards committing it. This is unlike the higher intelligence people who would have more to lose if caught and the rewards for which they would be getting are relatively less in their context given their station in society.

High intelligence individuals are likely to engage in criminal activities that they think they will obtain pleasure from or for ideological purposes. However, lower intelligence individuals are more likely to engage in crimes for survival and to get to higher material levels in society since they are usually relegated to lower levels. Both types of criminal activities, however, have a common underlying factor-greed. There are discrepancies in the punishment of different types of crimes. Those mostly committed by lower intelligence individuals are more likely to be severely punished when compared to those committed by higher intelligence individuals. The sentences for individuals committing crimes such as embezzlements are usually very lenient when compared to others and they have been subject to controversy. This is because they often affect a lot of people as opposed to crimes committed by lower IQ individuals.

White-collar crime is described as monetary, economic, or corporate crime that is frequently carried out through complex ways[20]. This complexity may be the reason why many high IQ individuals are not caught and characterized as offenders. White-collar crime is also usually mixed up with legitimate business, which makes it harder to discover[21]. One of the reasons for the discrepancy in the punishment of white collar crime-which is a type of high IQ crime- is the fact that high intelligence criminals are likely to have resources which they use to hire good lawyers. In addition, they are likely to have political connections, which guarantee them lower sentences in spite of the magnitude of the crimes committed. Street crimes, which are likelier to be committed by lower IQ individuals, are often more attention demanding since they directly affect individuals as opposed high IQ crimes which usually affect corporations. In addition, law enforcement officials are usually trained in addressing common crimes and thus lower IQ individuals are more common at penitentiaries.

Therefore, high IQ crimes may affect entire communities even though they may get lower sentences. The invisibility of some of the effects of high IQ crimes may lead lower public consciousness and thus lower sentences since they may seem lesser in their effect. The sentences given out for them are usually lighter than they should be but it is supposed that the perpetrators pay in other ways. Since they are usually highly regarded individuals, the loss of face and reputation brought on by a conviction is seen as part of the punishment. The offenders may also get lesser sentences since they may assist in investigations given the complexity of most cases of the type[22]. The seeming respectability of individuals who are involved in white-collar crimes may draw sympathy from judges who may identify with most of the activities the individuals do. The facelessness of the victims-companies and corporations-may have contributed to the low penalties. Common criminals, who are likely to have lower IQs, are further from the judges’ sphere and thus they may draw outrage and hence the higher sentences given to them.

The punishment of high IQ offenders, however, has changed with the changing times and circumstances and they are getting stiffer sentences than they used to. This is a reflection of the changing public view on the subject, which has resulted from economic change. With greater economic problems, high IQ offenders get more attention and are blamed as the source of woes for the public given the great sums of money involved in such activities[23]. With the recent economic crisis in the U.S and the world at large, increased attention was paid to white-collar criminals. The crisis prompted greater outrage from the offenders’ activities thus leading to severer sentences. An example is the case of Bernie Madoff who was sentenced to 150 years incarceration even though he is about seventy. This is one of the stiffest sentences ever handed out to a high IQ offender that reflects current views[24]. Another harsh sentence for such a case was an 845-year sentence given to Sholam Weiss for defrauding an insurance company off 450 million dollars[25]. These sentences provide examples for high IQ crimes that have punished severely in recent times with the changing public view.

In the 1980s and the 1990s, the sentences handed out to higher IQ individuals were less compared to current sentences. This can be illustrated by the case of Milken of Drexel Burnham who got 10 years in prison and the sentence was later reduced to 22 months[26]. As a reflection of the times, the federal government has instituted guidelines, which have increased the minimum time of incarceration for such offenders. In addition, the increased presence of the American public in the stork market may have increased their pain and involvement when the stork market crashed. Therefore, high IQ criminals may come to get sentences that are at par with lower IQ individuals. This is due to the increased public attention on such crimes and the realization that they are serious crimes that strongly affect the public negatively.



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[1], Defining Crime, 17 Oct 2009, <,articleId-26874.html>

[2]Richard Herrnstein, “Biology and Crime”, Jail Bulletin. Number 26, U.S Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, February 1987, 17 Oct 2009,


3 What Different IQ Scores Mean. 12 Apr 2004 <>



[5] Tricia Ellis-Christensen, What is IQ (Intelligence Quotient)?, 2003, October 17 2009, <>

[6] Ellis-Christensen

[7] J. Mitchell Miller, 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook, (Newbury Park, CA, United States: SAGE, 2009) 63.

[8] Miller

[9] Herrnstein

[10] Herrnstein.

[11] Herrnstein.

[12] June M. Andrew, “Verbal IQ and the I-Level Classification System for Delinquents.” Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 7, No. 2, 193-202 (1980), DOI: 10.1177/009385488000700205, October 17, 2009 <>


[13] Psychological Theories: Individual Traits and Criminal Behavior. October 17, 2009.


[14] Carol Veneziano, Psychology and Crime, Southeast Missouri State, Department of Criminal Justice & Sociology. (January 8, 2009). October 17, 2009.




[17] A.K. Blake (Ed.), “Intelligence Scores and Behavior: Even a Few Points Matter.” Crime Times. Vol. 2, No. 2, ( Wacker Foundation, 1996. pp. 4-5) October 17, 2009. <>

[18] Blake 4-5.

[19] Amos Zeichner, “The IQ/Aggression Connection”, Crime Times. Vol. 1, No. 3, 1995, Page 6 <>

[20] Solomon L. Wisenberg, White-Collar Crime: The Crash Course, 2005. October 19, 2009, <>

[21] Robert O. Keel, White Collar Crime, March 26, 2008. October 19, 2009, <>

[22] Online Lawyer Source, Penalties for White Collar Crime, 2009. October 19, 2009, <>

[23] Keel.

[24] The New York Times, White-Collar Jail Terms: Who Got What, June 29, 2009. October 20, 2009, <\>

[25] The New York Times.

[26] Jane Sasseen & David Polek, White-Collar Crime: Who Does Time? February 6, 2006. October 20, 2009,       <>

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