Can we know if someone is good or bad because of their physical appearance?

personalidad aspecto físico

I’ll start the article by giving an answer to the question, as if it were a spoiler. If I could only answer with a yes or no to the question of whether one can know whether someone is good or bad by their physical appearance, I would opt for a no (or a depends). Mainly because of the multitude of vital and genetic events that have to come together to develop a psychopathic, delinquent, criminal or antisocial personality. However, over the years there have been different theories that have studied the relationship of physical traits to delinquency. Therefore, if you continue reading you will find an answer to your doubts.
There are a multitude of personality theories that attempt to explain antisocial or criminal behavior from different approaches and scientific currents that have contributed data of relevant value for criminology. One of the most striking theories is that which are based on biological types, are the so-called constitutional theories of personality that base their hypotheses on the physical characteristics of people, their body shapes and certain physical anomalies.

The delinquent man, by Césare Lombroso.

The first modern author who studied this type of psychobiological theories was the Italian psychiatrist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1876), who posited the existence of a prototype of a delinquent man. According to Lombroso the criminal man was predisposed to crime and his physical characteristics stigmatized him as such. Men predisposed to delinquency had low cranial capacity, low forehead and retreat, large jaws, high cheekbones, large ears, insensitivity to pain, thick and curly hair, and anomalies in eyes, lips, ears, genitals. Lombroso even said that criminal men tended to have female traits and female delinquents male traits. In addition, he identified certain psychological characteristics such as moral insensitivity, lack of remorse (consistent with psychopathy), lack of awareness, cynical personality, vain, impulsive and categorized them as cruel, treacherous and vague people. His theory was lacking in scientific rigor but marked the ideas for later similar theories.

>> Related article: The 5 phases of the scientific method.

The somatic types of personality, by Kretschmer and Sheldon.

One of the theories based on the relationship between human body and criminality are those developed by German Ernst Krestchmer (1888-1964) and American William Sheldon (1898-1977), who served as a source of inspiration for the most recent criminological studies on The personality of Hans Eysenck (1916-1997).

The Krestchmer model proposed that the psychosomatic relationship and the constitutional types gave rise to 3 types of corporeal (and a mixed one) to which certain somatic and psychological characteristics corresponded to them.

  • Pychnic: they were people with obese and rounded physical features, with a manic-depressive psychopathological tendency and a cyclical personality.
  • Leptosomatic: tall and thin people, with schizophrenic tendencies and schizoid personality type.
  • Athletic: muscular subjects, with an intermediate psychopathological tendency and a personality that he called epileptic tendency.

Krestchmer’s works were continued by Sheldon who distinguished 3 somatic types (endomorphs, mesomorphs and ectomorphs) related to the embryonic stages, in which the most salient features of each type are formed. These somatic types in turn are related to 3 types of temperament (viscerotonía, somatonía and cerebrotonía).

  • Endomorphs: predominance of visceral development; fatness; Its bony and muscular structure is poorly developed and weak. Predominance of the digestive functions. It corresponds to the Kretschmer picnic type. Their temperament is therefore viscerotonic, that is, they are people who likes physical comfort, slow reactions, social use of food, expressive emotionally and little temperamental, are usually tolerant and educated people with strong orientation to family relationships . They seek the acceptance of others.
  • Mesomorphs: predominance of the bones and muscular structure, reason why they have a strong and resistant aspect, long and muscular trunk, volume of the thorax superior to the one of the abdomen and thick skin. They correspond to the athletic type of Kretschmer and the somatotonic temperament. The somatotonic personality is related to adventure, energy and the need for physical exercise. They are people of dominant character, competitive and aggressive with a strong psychological hardness and oriented to the achievement. They have high tolerance for pain, are usually extroverted and their strategies for problems are often active.
  • Ectomorphs: are related to the leptosomatic Krestchmer type. They are people of weak and thin constitution. Poor muscles, crushed chest and long, thin limbs. His temperament is a cerebrotonic type, characterized by excessive physiological responses, rapid reactions, timid, reject social contact but has a lot of mental activity. People therefore introverted, unpredictable and with agoraphobic tendencies. In addition, they are hypersensitive to pain.

>> Related article: What are almost psychopaths?

Sheldon, based on these three types of somatic personality, conducted an investigation with 200 juveniles between 15 and 24 years old purchased with 4,000 students. According to the author each type of personality favored a different way of criminal activity. Endomorphs tended to be occasional criminals and committed frauds and scams. The ectomorphic type could be related to thefts or robberies. Finally, the mesoform type was more prone to habitual delinquency, used violence in its acts, committing robberies, and even homicides. We could say that the mesomorphic typology has a greater tendency to commit crimes than other people.

Thus, according to Sheldon’s studies, criminal or psychopathic personality may have a tendency toward mesomorphic, ie, athletic, individuals. On the other hand, ectomorph individuals correlated poorly with delinquency and endomorphs developed disparate personalities.

The subsequent contribution of Eysenck

As we mentioned, Hans Eysenck used these theories to develop his own but not only taking the genetic aspects as the basis for criminal behavior, but also underpinning the importance of learning in personality development. Poor learning of social norms could condition the development of delinquency. In turn, crime is a trait that could be determined by genetic or biological factors but can also be smoothed by the environment.



Eysenck, H. (1988) Las causas y cuidados de la criminalidad (1988)

Luilly, J. Robert, Francis T. Cullen and Richard A. Ball (1995), Criminological Theory. Context and consequences. California: Sage Publications.

Lombroso, Cesare (1878). L’Uomo delinquente, 2ª ed. Torino: Boca.

Sheldon, W. (1949), Varieties of delinquent youth,  Nueva York: Harper and Brother

Sobre el autor

Iván Pico

Graduado en Psicología (UNED). Nº Colegiado G-5480. Diplomado en Ciencias Empresariales (USC). Máster en Psicología del Trabajo y las Organizaciones. (INESEM). Máster Universitario Oficial en Orientación Profesional (UNED). Posgrado en Neuromarketing (Universidad Camilo José Cela). Técnico Deportivo Nivel II, fútbol sala (RFEF). Especialista en Psicología Aplicada al Deporte. Etc, etc...
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