Inherited Criminal Characteristics Theory

Updated April 17, 2017

The ancient debate of nature versus nurture has influenced psychologists to take interest in criminology. In studying criminal behaviour, many psychologists and scientists have devised theories meant to explain deviant characteristics. The major debate in these theories centres on the concept of genetic make-up and criminal activity. While some theorists believe that the environment influences criminal behaviour, others hold to the idea of criminals having inherent characteristics that make them menaces in society; inherited criminal characteristics theory is founded on the latter belief.

Earnest Albert Hooton

Earnest Albert Hooton is credited with establishing the concept of inherited criminal characteristics theory during the 1930s and 1940s. While Cesare Lombroso previously theorised that criminal behaviour is biologically inherited, Charles B. Goring labelled the theory as inadequate. In order to prove Goring wrong, Hooton tested 13,873 criminals and physically compared them with 3,203 noncriminals. What Hooton found was that criminals tend to be physically inferior to noncriminals.

Hooton's Theory and Findings

During his twelve-year research, Hooton found that low-sloping foreheads, thin lips, and compressed jaws were common in criminal physiques. In contrast, full lips and jaws with high-standing foreheads were common in noncriminals. In addition to physical appearance, Hooton discovered that individuals guilty of crimes were typically single, widowed or divorced. Based on his analyses, Hooton concluded that physical inferiority was the cause of deviant behaviour. Since physical appearance is directly related to genetic make-up inherited from family members, Hooton theorised that deviant individuals are biologically inclined to commit crimes.

Lombroso's Theory

On the basis of Hooton's theory, Cesare Lombroso devised the biosocial theory after observing the actions of soldiers. This theory suggests that individuals involved in criminal activity exhibit such behaviour because of poor genetic make-up. Such individuals should be isolated from people with good genes as not to contaminate the majority. Lombroso's theory also points out that people who regularly engage in criminal activity have deviant inherited characteristics.

Personality Traits and Medical Disorders

Modern criminology classifies Hooton's and Lombroso's theories on inherited characteristics as personality disorders. Persons who exercise antisocial behaviour and engage in criminal activity are said to have poor personality traits. The majority of these traits can be observed in children. In addition, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Conduct Disorder (CD), and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) are medical conditions that fall under personality disorders. Similar to inherited characteristics theories presented by Hooton and Lombroso, personality disorders are associated with deviant individuals' criminology.

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About the Author

Sarie Robertson has been writing professionally since 2006. She writes for various online publications and is an expert in discussing English, British and Greek literature as well as U.S. and Chinese politics. Robertson holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Loyola Marymount University.