The early positivists, such as Cesare Lombroso, who lived from 1836 to 1909, considered biological attributes to be the real roots of crime. Lombroso took body measurements of offenders in Italian prisons and concluded that there were “born criminals.” These born criminals had distinctive body measurements and skull sizes.
Positivism, following Lombroso and others, continued to be influential as it played a major role in explaining criminal behavior. But with the development of psychoanalysis in the late nineteenth century and the growth of psychology in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the theories of the mind became much more prominent in offering explanations for the causes of crime.
Psychoanalysis and Psychology
While Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory was used to offer explanations as to why some people might commit crimes, biological theories became much more refined as increasing and more sophisticated research in the areas of genetics, chromosomal abnormalities, glandular dysfunction, chemical imbalances, and nutritional deficiencies helped offer other biological theories.
In general, all psychological explanations look inside the human mind for the causes of criminal offending. The oldest and perhaps one of the most influential theories was Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Although Freud did not set out to explain criminal behavior, some of his followers offered explanations based on psychoanalytic theories.
Basically, psychoanalytic theory views behavior as resulting from the interactions of the three components of personality: the id, the ego, and the superego. Freud saw the id as the instinctual, primitive part of the personality. The ego was that part that mediated between the self-centered desires of the id and the learned values of the superego. The superego acts as a person’s conscience, but develops from the values an individual learns early in life. When there is a faulty ego or superego, then these two parts of the personality fail to control the id. This results in personality imbalances, and the result is likely to be deviant behavior.
Although psychoanalysis was influential in the early part of the twentieth century, it gave way to other psychologically based theories.