Volume 21 - Issue 4

Review Article Biomedical Science and Research Biomedical Science and Research CC by Creative Commons, CC-BY

A Systematic Narrative Review of Environmental Toxins and Criminal Behavior Association

*Corresponding author:Lütfiye Kaya Cicerali, Psychology Department, Istanbul Nisantasi University, Türkiye.

Received: February 06, 2024; Published: February 08, 2024

DOI: 10.34297/AJBSR.2024.21.002851


This review covered the linkage between environmental toxins and criminal behavior. Three databases were searched using “environmental toxins” and “crime” terms in “topics” or “abstract/title/keywords” parts. Without a time or article type limit, all articles were included. As the PRISMA diagram demonstrated, 16 articles remained for narrative analysis. The earliest article found in these databases was from 2000, and the latest one was from 2023. Overall, this study showed that most articles reported ecological observation studies and used population statistics. Therefore, we could talk of correlation between environmental toxins and criminal behavior, rather than causation, as already emphasized in all these articles. Three studies were based on individual data, quasi-experimental with control group. One recent study was a detailed meta-analysis comprising 24 articles. One article was a letter correcting the analysis in an earlier article and finding the same result. Studies strongly linked environmental toxins with criminal behavior. On the other hand, the only published meta-analysis (Higney, Hanley, & Moro, 2022), and one review article (Hall, 2013) found this link as overstated. The majority of articles used the USA crime and polluter statistics.

Keywords: Criminal behavior, Crime, Environmental toxins, Forensic psychology, Neurotoxicity


Exposure to environmental toxins such as polluted air, endocrine disrupters, lead, heavy metals like mercury, and many other chemicals have been implicated to have potential neurotoxic effects reflected in undesirable behavior. The relationship between environmental toxins and externalization behavior including aggression, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and antisocial behavior is a multifaceted one, making causal attributions not so easy. This review is conducted to see what kind of studies were published covering this relationship, and how the interest in this topic evolved over the years [1-5].


Systematic narrative analysis method is employed. The terms “environmental toxins” and “crime” were searched within “topics” of Web of Science, “abstract/title/keywords” in Scopus, and “search for research articles” tab of Springer Link, since these locations indicate an article’s focus. No date, no article type (narrative review, meta-analysis, observational research, theoretical, treatment pro tocol etc.), no research designs (correlational survey study, randomized controlled trial, quasi experimental etc.), or toxin exposure/ crime involvement age group was excluded. The results yielded 30 articles in Scopus, 715 articles in Springer Link, and 18 articles in Web of Science totaling 763 articles 750 of which screened out due to being out of scope. Springer Link returned the most populous results, since its search function does not aim at a specific part of article like abstract, keywords etc., and thus does not narrow down articles to the most relevant ones, hence the majority was out of scope. The PRISMA diagram below shows the results of article search in databases and relevant articles included in this review [6-10]. The excluded articles were irrelevant, expounding the link of criminality and use of psychoactive drugs, investigating green crimes (i.e., polluting the waters, air, and soil) or corporate crimes (e.g., gas flaring by fuel companies), or about ecological crime policies (Figure 1).


Results are summarized in the table below (Table 1).

Biomedical Science &, Research

Figure 1:

Note*: PRISMA flow diagram for Environmental Toxins and Criminal Behavior based on database search dated February 2nd -4th, 2024.

Biomedical Science &, Research

Table 1: Overall review findings with prompts “environmental toxins” and “crime”.


The systematic survey of three large science databases yielded only 13 articles about environmental toxins and criminal behavior across 23 years. Google Scholar and ResearchGate search added 4 additional relevant articles [11-13]. Since most of the studies were based on population level statistics and not experiments, a reliable outcome proving environmental contaminants cause crime was not possible. However, most of the researchers who published on this topic had a common view supporting a powerful relationship, and they could theoretically explain their point of view with reasonable arguments [14-17].

Conflict of Interest

There is no conflict of interest regarding this review.




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