Positive Theory (Positivism)

Basic Idea of the Positive Theory:

  • Criminals are born not made
  • This is an example of nature, not nurture
  • Focused on biological and psychological factors to explain criminal behaviour
Positivist Theorists:

  • Cesare Lombroso (1835 – 1909)
  • Italian physician and psychiatrist
  • Studied cadavers of executed criminals in an effort to determine scientifically whether criminals were physically any different from non-criminals
  • He believed that people were born criminals and facial features of criminals included things like enormous jaws and strong canine teeth

Pictures of murderers that Lombroso believed carried facial features tied to criminal activity.


  • In the 1960s, positivist criminologists argued that criminal behaviour lies in abnormal chromosomes
  • The XYY theory argued that violent male criminals have an abnormal XYY chromosome (XY is the normal pattern in males)
  • However, researchers soon found out that this was not true and that criminals had normal chromosomes and that non-criminals also had abnormal chromosomes
  • The Positivist theory of criminals being born rather than made died out
  • There were moral implications with this.
Modern Day Example:
  • Philippe Rushton, psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario
  • His book “Race, Evolution, and Behavior” (1995) tries to show that East Asians and their descendants average a larger brain size, greater intelligence, more sexual restraint, slower rates of maturation, and greater law abidingness and social organization than do Europeans and their descendants, who average higher scores on these dimensions than Africans and their descendants

The Criminal Brain:

The Murderer’s Brain:


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