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Forensic Psychology – Criminality

1. Lombroso and the ‘Born Criminal’

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the work of the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso. We begin by considering his famous work L’uomo delinquente [Delinquent Man] (1878) in which he proposed that criminality was a genetic trait and that criminals could be recognised by a certain set of atavistic physiological characteristics. We examine the origins of Lombroso’s theory of atavistic form in his work as a physician and consider its critical success in nineteenth-century Italy and beyond. Finally, we suggest that while Lombroso’s work was significant in advancing the popularity of criminology and promoting a scientific approach to understanding crime, it was also fundamentally flawed and marked by scientific racism, classism and misogyny.


In this course, Prof. Francis Pakes (University of Portsmouth) discusses some issues in Criminal Psychology. In module one, we think about Lombroso and the notion of the ‘born criminal’ before moving on, in module two, to discuss genetic explanations of crime more broadly. Next, we examine cognitive explanations of crime, focussing in particular on moral reasoning in module three and cognitive distortions in module four. In the final part of the course, we turn to consider the criminal justice system, focussing on the aims of imprisonment in module five and the problem of recidivism in module six.


Francis is Professor in Criminology. He studied psychology in Groningen (the Netherlands) and received his PhD from Leiden University (the Netherlands). He joined the University of Portsmouth in 1998. Francis has a keen interest in comparative criminal justice and the role of globalisation and shaping criminal justice across the globe. His background in psychology serves him well in studying issues of mental health and criminal justice and other vulnerable and excluded populations. He is an expert on prisons, crime and justice in the Netherlands and regularly features in the media discussing prisons, violent crime and other crime and justice related issues.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Pakes, F. (2019, October 22). Forensic Psychology – Criminality - Lombroso and the ‘Born Criminal’ [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pakes, F. "Forensic Psychology – Criminality – Lombroso and the ‘Born Criminal’." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Oct 2019,

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