The debate surrounding offending behaviour and its origins has been going on for some time. In the past, researchers will have typically looked for biological explanations as little was known about the impact of the environment on social and moral development.
The first researcher to take this view was Lombroso in the 1870s. His view was that there were physical features which offenders had, which indicated they were less developed in an evolutionary sense than non-offenders. Essentially, Lombroso combined his ideas with Darwin’s theory of evolution to imply that offenders were more primitive and therefore not completely responsible for their criminal actions. Lombroso referred to the physical features identified in criminals as “atavistic”, where the term atavism refers to a primitive ancestor.
Aim: To identify distinguishing physical features among criminals, which set them apart as offenders based on biological principles.
Method: Lombroso examined the features and measurements of nearly 4,000 criminals, as well as the skulls of 400 dead criminals.
Results: Some common findings from Lombroso’s investigation included:
Conclusion: Lombroso concluded that these characteristics indicated that such people were more primitive in an evolutionary sense. He went on to say that such individuals were therefore not responsible for their actions as they could not be blamed for their innate, inherited physiology.
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