Criminal Heredity: The Influence of Cesare Lombroso's Concept of the “Born Criminal” on Contemporary Neurogenetics and its Forensic Applications


  • Elisabetta Sirgiovanni New York University, Sapienza University of Rome, I


Lombroso , Neurolaw , Criminality , Genetics , Heredity


 At the end of the nineteenth century the Italian physician and anthropologist Cesare Lombroso established the foundations of criminological sciences by introducing a biological theory of delinquency, which was later discredited and replaced by the sociological approach. The theory of the “born criminal” was poor in methods and analysis, and turned out to be controversial in its formulations, assumptions, and mostly in its predictions. However, recent research in behavioral genetics and neuroscience has brought back some version of the Lombrosian idea by providing evidence for the genetic and biological correlates of criminality. This research has been impacting legal proceedings worldwide. In this paper, I compare the Lombrosian and the contemporary scientific meanings of “heredity” and “predisposition” to aggressive and violent behavior, by highlighting theoretical similarities and differences in the two approaches. On the one hand, the paper is arguing against the idea that contemporary theories are radically deterministic, while on the other hand it aims at rehabilitating the intellectual image of Lombroso by showing that the denigration of his brilliant work by his successors was unjustified.