Criminology Wiki

Somatotype Models.jpg



When looking at life aspects many things need to be taken into consideration. Some of those things involve what we base our thoughts on, and what we believe to be true and what we believe to be false. What a lot of people do not realize is that our world is constructed off of the ideas of theories. One theory specifically curious to me is the Constitutional Theory, specifically focusing on the idea of somatotyping. With this theory and the ideas that follow it, I am focusing on the findings behind crime behavior, and how the Constitutional theory specifically deals with crime and criminology. Don't believe this.

To start there needs to be an understanding of what exactly somatotyping is. By definition somatotyping is: “the structure or build of a person, especially to the extent to which it exhibits the characteristics of an ectomorph, an endomorph, or a mesomorph” (American heritage,, 2012). A U.S. psychologist W.H. Sheldon created the idea of somatotyping; in his system he classified human beings in regards to their body type or build. He based his classifications on three specific body types, those being: endomorphic, or round, fat type; mesomorphic, or muscular type; and ectomorphic, or slim, linear type (Encyclopedia Britannica,, 2012). In order to determine who falls under what body type a somatotype number of three digits must be determined. With Sheldon’s system the first digit refers to the endomorphy, the second refers to the mesomorphy, and the third refers to the ectomorphy; and each digit is on a one to seven scale, with one being very low and seven being very high (Encyclopedia Britannica,, 2012). Once a score is determined for an individual, with Sheldon’s system, you should then be able to determine a personality type for that individual. But with that there lies controversy(s), which will later be explored.

The three areas of the body types now need to be better described. According to Sheldon’s original model this is how the body types are broken down: he concluded on three extreme types. These extremes were then described as fat or round, muscular or square, and thin or linear; with these extremes then coming together into a balanced center. Directly from Sheldon this is how he characterized and categorized his samples according to body types, to what we now know as somatotyping. To start, Sheldon wrote four books about this theory, and from those four books these things were drawn: “individually and collectively, these books deliver three sorts of messages: methodological (how-to-do-it information on somatotyping), substantive (applications of somatotyping to social problems), and visionary or salvationist (assurances that constitutional psychology can guide a eugenics program and save the modern world from itself)” (Rafter, 2007).

So basically, Sheldon breaks it down like this: “The three layers are called the endoderm or the innermost layer of the body, the mesoderm or the middle layer of the body, and the ectoderm or the outermost layer of the body. The lining of the stomach, intestines, and other internal organs forms the endoderm. The mesoderm is then the tissue from which muscle and bone emerge. Finally, the ectoderm forms skin, nerves, and the brain. He felt it would be appropriate to name the various body-type dimensions after the tissue layers that were most significantly connected with their dominant features” (Worldpress, 2011). That being said, the classifications are most simply put like this: endomorphs appear gut dominant, while mesomorphs generally are more muscular, and finally the ectomorphs are highly invested in nervous and cerebral features (Worldpress, 2011). Now that the body types have been broken down, this allows for the investigation into crime patterns associated with the somatotypes, and also the possible future conclusions that can be drawn from each one of the somatotypes.

After extensive research it has been stated that Sheldon classified or implied that the mesomorphic body type individuals (those of the big bone and muscular shape), were more prone to committing violent and aggressive acts, and therefore criminality is rooted in biology, when compared to the other two body types and their crime patterns and tendencies (Maddan, Walker, & Miller, 2008). According to some research, Sheldon’s idea has been pushed “back into the closet, or kept unknown” to criminologists, because specialists in the causes for crime are not ready to bury the idea, but at the same time hesitate to put it on display due to the uncertainty of how this idea even got into their field to begin with (Rafter, 2007). Not only has this idea brought lots of confusion among researchers, but it has also brought on deeper thought and curiosity by other researchers, so much so that, “for example, Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) use Sheldon’s terminology and go far beyond his original findings to claim that, ‘Wherever it has been examined, criminals on the average differ in physique from the population at large. They tend to be more mesomorphic (muscular) and less ectomorphic (linear)” (Rafter, 2007). With Sheldon being the first person to explore the idea behind body type and behavior with criminal tendencies a lot of controversy has occurred from his thoughts. One of the bigger trends with the controversies is that, very few researchers “raise questions about Sheldon’s methods or findings, they leave the impression that indeed a relationship exists between body build and criminality-therefore somewhat agreeing with Sheldons’ model” (Rafter, 2007). Some go as far as saying Sheldons ideas resemble those of the beloved past topic of phrenology and personality characteristics, but how accurate is it really? So with an insight into some of the basic controversy about this theory, here are some of the findings to both support and reject Sheldons theory and findings.

One thing needs to be stressed with this theory, and that is that Sheldons model and results are based off of male body types, therefore instant controversy is drawn with women and their crime patterns due to body type. Sheldon not only classified people by their body type but by their temperament most associated with each body type in a similar manner, which is where he then concluded the crime tendencies of the individuals. With that, the temperaments were described as “biologically determined attitudes, beliefs, and motivations associated with the basic body types; viscerotonia (the relaxed, sociable, gluttonous temperament), somatotonia (dominated by muscular activity and a drive toward action and power), and cerebrotonia (restrained, asocial, dominated by the cerebrum)” (Rafter, 2007). With those guidelines, Sheldons conclusions were then drawn. Which as previously stated, implies that the mesomorphic body type individuals (those of the big bone and muscular shape), were more prone to committing violent and aggressive acts based on their scores for mental insufficiency, medical insufficiency, psychiatric insufficiency, and persistent although not necessarily criminal misbehavior, (Rafter, 2007) and their standings under body shape, and temperament classification (Rafter, 2007). Sheldon noticed that from the scorings on his scales, his test subjects and some worldly known individuals that (these) “adjudicatable delinquents were superior physically to the other youths, excelling in general strength and general athletic ability” (Rafter, 2007). Giving exact reasoning for their higher likelihood for committing crime later in life. After his extensive studying, some interesting findings came about,

Sheldon claimed that crime is caused by inherited biological inferiority and delinquents are less worthy beings than the college man; they (delinquents) are mesomorphs whose behavior is governed by their muscular physiques and not their cerebrums, Dionysian types from whom the world needs saving…but while declaring this he ended up proving the exact opposite in that his actual delinquents turned out to be healthy, vigorous young men and nonetheless, in Sheldon’s view, his constitutional psychology series demonstrated that biology is destiny, the chief determinant of character and behavior (Rafter, 2007).

Later researchers, have come to discredit many of Sheldons findings, because many of the individuals who he classified as “delinquent” had not broken criminal laws, but more so just had predispositions to criminal activity (Rafter, 2007), but that he then also ignored key factors such as the individuals environment in sequence to his body and temperament scales (Rafter, 2007). But to counter these findings Eleanor Glueck (1958) had an “analysis of the five traits of character structure (social as- sertiveness, defiance, suspiciousness, emotional labiality and destructiveness) shows that only destructiveness is found to exert a significantly different impact on the delinquency of the physique types, being much more characteristic of delinquent mesomorphs than of ectomorphs.” So in connection with Sheldon, these findings go on to give more explanation for why certain body types may be more likely for crime behavior: “although there are difficulties inherent in somatotyping children at a stage sufficiently early in their lives to make preventive efforts most meaningful, it may prove desirable to construct prediction tables for each body type, using as a basis for them those clusters of traits and socio-cultural factors that have been found in "Physique and Delinquency" most sharply to differentiate delinquents from non-delinquents within each predominant physique type” (Glueck, 1958). So where it seems that Rafter may have some sort of disagreement with Sheldons theory, Glueck seems to remain somewhat neutral or somewhat negative on the topic in that her results say that, "mesomorphs and delinquency," contrasts boys of this body build, and for those who represent the great majority of persistent offenders, with boys of other body builds, and indicates which traits and socio-cultural factors contribute most significantly to their delinquency in contrast with other body types (Gleuck, 1958). Finally, there is the individual who finds all options available to an individual to take a role in their resulting behavior with crime. Richard Snodgrasse (1951), simply says this at the conclusion of his studies: “the method of studying physique should certainly utilize the techniques of anthropometry (including indices of disproportion), somatotyping, and inspectional assessment of individual morphological traits” (Snodgrasse, 1951). Basically saying that more than body type or temperament has to be taken into consideration when trying to map out a specific person or persons crime patterns or tendencies. Regardless of a researchers support or rejection for Sheldons theory, the understanding behind his theory is given in each of their findings. To the extents, that although we may be able to somewhat predict an individuals likelihood for something like committing a crime, there will always be that one person who bucks the system on all angles, which allows us to constantly debate and criticize they theory.

All in all, not one person is right or wrong in their findings and thoughts on Sheldons theory, but in laments terms, Rafter (2007), says it best: “criminologists in general may keep Sheldon’s skeleton in the closet because they are unsure about what to do with it. Social history offers a way to think about and even value Sheldon, apart from the degree to which his findings were correct. After all, he contributed new words to the criminological vocabulary—somatotyping, endomorphy, mesomorphy, and ectomorphy—and his photographic displays constitute one of the most powerful visual rhetorics in criminological history” (Rafter, 2007).

As it has been earlier addressed, Sheldon’s theory has progressed along with the modernization of the world, but has also become a very hesitated topic of conversation among specialists, especially criminologists. Throughout the years, Sheldon’s theory has had to adjust to new world morals and values, in order to properly be asserted within society. Somatotyping has become the significant focus of this theory of constitutionalism, in order to define somebody by their body type or physical build. Although there is much controversy with this theory, it has been proven pretty prevalent, that the body type of the mesomorph individuals (those of the big bone and muscular shape), seem to be the most likely candidates when predicting crime trends and patterns. Defining individuals by their body type, has become a standard practice with researchers, when attempting to map crime in coordination with specific individuals. There is not a “normal” body type, but more so a body type that appears to predict crime behavior. This theory has had to evolve in order to apply to the socio-economic changes that have occurred over the centuries, and many researchers have conflicting results on the topic with its relevancy to crime likelihood. From these conflicting results, many factors are responsible, some of those being, the economic status in which an individual is brought up, an individuals family, education, community; all representing the nurture side of an individual which may or may not weaken the argument that the problem(s) stem in an individuals biological make up, bringing in the nature aspect. From this, Sheldon’s theory strictly based on body type alone is weakened, because more factors are significant in future actions of an individual. These social aspects, therefore weaken Sheldon’s strict biological explanations for the crime patterns from certain individuals. Sheldon’s idea has similarities to Lombroso’s theory of biology and criminals, in that “criminals are physically different from law-abiding citizens and that these differences demonstrated the biological causes of criminal behavior” (Akers & Sellers, 2009). To people like Lombroso and Sheldon, people are impacted by their biological breakdown, through genes, disorders, and basic biological make-up. Therefore, criminals are biologically innate to commit crime regardless of anything else from the socio-economical world. From this view, that some may see as a consequence, the inability of those who are born with “bad genes” are subject to a likely future in crime. Therefore they are destined to be criminals because of their biological make ups, and are then at a social disadvantage regardless of what they attempt to do to avoid it. The formation of and individual’s genetic makeup, and their resulting body types, more often than not, supports, Sheldons somatotyping and constitutional theory.

So with those ideas, what can the criminal justice system do to change this, and prevent future rise in crime What policies need to be applied in order to make a difference in these individuals lives, if as according to Sheldon or Lombroso they are genetically destined to be criminals? Some may agree that an individual is biologically destined to be criminal, but so many other theories point to criminal behaviors being a result of so much more. We cannot go around an destroy a line of people, just because they have “bad genes” or biological factors, so therefore the socio-economic aspect needs to take a bigger role in these theories. There has to be a way to change a path of an individual, who has these poor genes, by the influences of their families, communities, educations, etc. We cannot set these people up for failure, but in turn should use these thoughts to set them up for success- step in before the option to commit a crime is there. All people, regardless of their biological factors and body types, should be eligible for equal futures. Some people feel the need to fulfill a stereotype that is given to them just because they think that is a means to the rules, but other feel the need to buck the system and go against what society has mapped out as socially acceptable for them; with that although this theory may have helped predict and prevent crime from happening, it has probably also caused a lot of negative attention on innocent individuals. It is very clear that this theories, will remain, just that, theories, because regardless of what findings and results people have come to there is always the ability to prove something wrong and discredit it. From Sheldon’s theory, a specific body type may represent a possibility of a criminal, but it does not seal the deal. The actual crime must be committed. So finally, as mentioned earlier this theory is very touching with criminologists, because they do not know what to do with it, or how exactly to interpret it. All in all, although Sheldon may have had some positively reflective information on how to prevent crime, many aspects were missing from his theory.