Somatotype: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:02 Biological…
  • 0:30 What are Somatotypes?
  • 1:55 The Three Somatotypes
  • 3:51 Criticisms of Sheldon's Study
  • 4:40 Later Studies
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melanie Norwood

Melanie has taught several criminal justice courses, holds an MS in Sociology concentrating in Criminal Justice & is completing her Ph.D. in Criminology, Law & Justice.

In this lesson, we will define the three types of somatotypes. we'll also explore how somatotypes have contributed to criminological theory, and present some visual examples of individuals who match the body types.

Biological Criminological Theories

Have you ever thought to yourself that someone you saw somehow looked like a criminal? Even though we know logically that this isn't something we can simply observe just by looking at someone, there were actually a few criminological theories developed many years ago that attempted to establish a connection between a person's physical build and appearance and their likelihood to commit a crime. These theories are referred to as biological criminological theories.

What Are Somatotypes?

Somatotypes are a set of generalized body types. Psychologist William Sheldon came up with somatotypes in the 1940s and they were one of the biological theories developed in this time period that attempted to explain and predict crime based on a person's body type. These body types broke down into three categories: ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs.

Sheldon developed these categories based on existing knowledge at the time of how embryos develop in layers, namely the inner layer, or the endoderm; the middle layer or the mesoderm; and the outer layer, or the ectoderm. Generally speaking, ectomorphs are thin and slender and may appear fragile, endomorphs are round and solid and often appear overweight, and mesomorphs tend to have developed muscles and appear strong and powerful.

Sheldon examined a group of 200 young men who were referred to a community center focused on helping young male delinquents. During a 10-year period, he compared these individuals to a group of 200 non-delinquent college students, ranking individuals in the study according to their body type. He found that many of the juvenile delinquent men had mesomorphic body types, whereas most of the college students had ectomorphic body types. He also noted specific behavioral and personality traits associated with a predominance of each body type.

The Three Somatotypes

Let's look at each somatotype in more detail.


Sheldon's ectomorphs tend to be very thin and fragile, often appearing delicate. This individual would have a small face, a petite nose, and finely textured hair. The temperament Sheldon associated with this body type is considered cerebrotonic: someone who is introverted, suffers from allergies or skin maladies, is often tired or fatigued, is highly sensitive to distractions and noise, and tends to shrink away from large crowds.

Actor/director Johnny Depp is an example of someone who meets the physical description as well as the associated personality traits of an ectomorph. His physical appearance is thin and slight, and he is quiet and reserved when off-camera.


Endomorphs are quite the opposite of their frail associates. They tend to be pudgy and round with a tendency to gain weight easily. Their skin would be very smooth and their arms and legs somewhat short for their build. The temperament Sheldon associated with endomorphic individuals is referred to as viscerotonic, or those who are easygoing and comfortable with themselves, who enjoy luxurious things, and who are extroverted and outgoing.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey is a famous example of someone who fits the endomorph body type and associated personality traits. She is well-known for her outgoing personality and expensive taste.


Sheldon's third and final body type, the mesomorph, is muscular and dense with a long torso. Mesomorphs also tend to have large wrists and hands. The temperament associated with mesomorphs is called somotonic, which means these individuals are active, dynamic, and assertive with a tendency toward aggression.

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