Copyright

Positivist Criminology: Definition & Theory

Positivist Criminology: Definition & Theory
Coming up next: The Classical School of Criminology & Its Influence Today

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Definition of…
  • 0:46 Positivist Theory
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

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

Review the definition of positivist criminology and examine the theories behind the concept. Upon completion of the lesson, you will be able to take a short quiz to test your understanding.

Definition of Positivist Criminology

In the early 1800s, public executions used to be commonplace. The idea was that society would be afraid of the public punishment that came with wrongdoing and adjust their actions. This reasoning for punishment aligns with a view known as utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a theory that one is motivated by pleasure and the fear of pain, so punishments can be used as a deterrent to commit crimes. In the mid-1800s, ideas about criminals and punishment started to evolve. Positivist criminology began to emerge, which is the study of criminal behavior based upon external factors.

Positivist Theory

The primary idea behind positivist 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. Moreover, the positive criminologist does not usually examine the role of free will in criminal activity.

One famous positive criminologist was Cesare Lombroso. In the mid-1800s, he studied cadavers and looked for physiological reasons for criminal behavior. Lombroso distinguished between different types of criminals, including the born criminal and the criminaloid. Lombroso issued studies indicating that born criminals possessed similar facial features, which included large canine teeth, large jaws, low-sloping foreheads, high cheekbones and more. Criminaloids, on the other hand, had no physical characteristics of a born criminal but morphed into a criminal during their lives due to environmental factors. Criminaloids supposedly committed less severe crimes than other types of criminals.

In the 1960s and 1970s, positive criminology theories focused on abnormal chromosomes giving rise to criminal propensities. One theory, known as the XYY theory, indicated that violent males had an extra Y chromosome, which resulted in a likelihood toward crime. However, this theory was later disproved.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support