Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was an Italian psychiatrist and military medical doctor who  developed theories about the criminals. His theories are no longer valid today. Only credit which can be given to Lombroso is that he was the pioneer in inducement of scientific methods to criminology. Although anthropometric measurements were correct, the causal connection between human physical traits and criminality was deceptive. Sometimes scientists spend their whole career proving their hypotheses. Similar things happen in every area of human social activity. Development and understanding of scientific methods made possible to prove flaws of many studies in criminology and other sciences.

Classical criminology: Beccaria's views of crime

Lombroso developed the theory about "born criminal". In 3000 anthropometric measurements he found some biological traits of criminals.

Biological traits of born criminal are:

-    unusual size or shape of the head,

-    strange eyes,

-    facial asymmetry,

-    extended jaw and jaw bone,

-    too big or too small ears,

-    full lips leaned forward,

-    abnormal teeths,

-    wrinkled skin,

-    nose curled up; thieves have a flat nose and murderers have a beak nose,

-    too long, too small or flat chin,

-    dark skin and

-    too long arms.

According to Lombroso,  persons who have five or more biological traits are born criminals. Beside physical traits Lombroso introduces some other traits of born criminal:

1)    hypersensitivity to pain and touch,

2)    use of special criminal slang,

3)    grotesque expression of thoughts,

4)    tattoos and

5)    unemployment.

Lombroso later changes the theory of born criminal and develops a new theory. Classification of criminals is made into three categories:

1)    born criminals (30% of all criminals),

2)    abnormal criminals (idiots, imbeciles, paranoids, melancholics, paralytics, epileptics, demented persons,  alcoholics and hysterics)

3)    occasional criminals

      a) criminaloids

      b) pseudo criminals

      c) criminals out of habit


Criminaloids had difficulties during their childhood and can occasionally behave delinquently. Pseudo criminals are insane persons and those who committed crime in self defense. Habitual criminals had a poor education during their childhood or have been in social interaction with criminals.

Further studies of Lombroso's thesis were made by Goring in 1913 and Hooton in 1939.

Goring contests Lombroso's thesis based on the experiment he made on 3000 criminals and non-criminals. Goring didn't find any physical abnormalities or traits on criminals. He criticized Lombroso on the issue of born criminal and found that such thesis is inaccurate as well as dangerous. Goring concluded that no one is criminal until he or she commits a crime.

Hooton confirms Lombroso's thesis based on the research he made on 14000 criminals and 3000 non-criminals from 10 Federal states of U.S.

Lombroso's theory was popular in his time, but it was later debunked. Some ideas fall out of favor in science as well as in politics with time. Lombroso's views on crime are still present today in the form of stereotypes on some minority groups. Furthermore, research conducted on police sub cultural behavior shows that police officers have similar stereotypes on particular racial groups.

Criminology theories of crime: Overview of criminology theoretical schools of thought 









3 comments
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  2. Anonymous 14.8.15  

    Just check on which content has the highest criminality rates and we reach the conclusion that Lombroso was not far from being right!

  3. Isu Gamage 24.11.15  

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