Atavistic Explantion

Atavistic Form Outline

Atavistic Form: an early biological explanation which proposed that criminals are a sub-species of genetic throwbacks that cannot conform to the rules of modern society. Such individuals can be distinguished by particular facial and cranial characteristics.

A historical Approach to offending: now considered as speculation but at one time did move criminology forward.

Lombroso said criminals are "genetic throwbacks"- a primitive sub species who were biological different from non-criminals.

Criminals: Strong prominent jaw, high cheekbones, dark skin, extra toes/fingers

Murderers: bloodshot eyes, curly hair and long ears

Lombroso: investigated the facial and cranial features of hundreds of Italian convicts dead and living. After examining 3839 living criminals, he concluded that 40% of crimes were accounted for by atavistic characteristics.

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Atavisitc Evaluation Limitations

Several critics (DeLisi) have drawn attention to the distinct racial undertones within Lombroso's work. Many features described and identified as atavistic and criminal, such as curly hair and dark skin are mostly likely to be found among people of African descent. Therefore, there are issues due to his controversial aspects which overshadows criminology.

A further weakness is surrounding a problem with causation. Although there may be criminals who have atavistic characteristics which Lombroso identified, this doesn’t mean it is the cause of offending. Other factors play a role, such as poverty which may be a cause to certain facial features. Lombroso revised his theory to include that criminals can be made as well as born due to environmental factors.

There is contradictory evidence surrounding the impact of physical and mental abnormalities amongst criminal classes. Charles Goring compared 3000 criminals with 3000 non-criminals, Goring concluded that there is no evidence of facial characteristics being distinct in the criminal group. He did uphold the view that criminals generally have a below average IQ. Although here is an element of limited support in terms of intelligence, it does question the key element of Lombroso’s theory.

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Evaluation - Strength

A strength is its contribution towards criminology. Lombroso is credited for shifting the emphasis in research away from moralistic discourse towards a more credible and scientific realm. Therefore it has made a major contribution to the science of criminology.

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