Cesare Lombroso: Biography, Theory & Criminology

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Cesare Lombroso was a famous criminologist who invented the theory of positive criminology. Study the biography of Lombroso and his criminology theories. Updated: 10/13/2021


Criminology is the study of criminals, crimes, theories of deviant behavior, how society reacts to crime, and anti-crime policies. Criminologists are individuals who study criminology.

One famous criminologist was Cesare Lombroso. He was born in 1835 in Verona, Italy and studied medicine at several universities. His main focus was psychology and psychiatry. Eventually, he developed an interest in the physiology and anatomy of the brain. Lombroso served briefly as a military medical doctor and later became an Italian professor of criminology.

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Lombroso's Criminology Theories

Lombroso studied what is known as characterology, which is the relationship between mental and physical characteristics, or the link between the way a person behaves and looks. Building on his characterology studies, Lombroso became a famous positive criminologist. The primary idea behind positive criminology is that criminals are born as such and not made into criminals; in other words, it is the nature of the person, not nurture, that results in criminal propensities. The positive criminologist does not usually examine the role of free will in criminal activity.

In the mid-1800s, Lombroso studied cadavers, seeking physiological reasons to explain criminal behavior. Lombroso distinguished between different types of criminals, including the born criminal and the criminaloid. According to Lombroso, born criminals had similar facial features, which included large canine teeth, large jaws, low-sloping foreheads, wrinkled skin, dark skin, large or small ears, chin abnormalities, high cheekbones, and more.

Criminaloids, on the other hand, had no physical characteristics of a born criminal but morphed into criminals during their lives due to environmental factors. Criminaloids supposedly committed less severe crimes than other types of criminals.

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