Criminologists have been searching for the magic formula for identifying criminals for hundreds of years, without much luck.
Scientists have tried all sorts of things – from cruel experiments on live humans during medieval times and in Nazi Germany, to the study of skull and brain structure, to DNA analysis in recent times.
But imagine if there really was a way to spot a criminal through physical factors alone.
Well, a group of scientists have recently released a study which suggests that key personal features could indeed signal whether a person is sexually attracted to children.
But before we get to that, let’s take a look back in time at the thoughts of one of the key criminologists of the early 20th century.
Left-Handed People are Evil!
Cesare Lombroso, the ‘father of scientific criminology’, gained publicity in the early 1900s when he claimed to have discovered the cause of crime – which he declared was “nature rather than nurture”.
Lombroso believed that those drawn to crime have different physical characteristics to most others, and that criminal tendencies may be inherited. As well as publishing that ‘criminals’ often had different shaped heads than most of the population, Lombroso was convinced that being left-handed was a key indicator of criminality.
In 1903 he wrote: “What is sure is that criminals are more often left-handed than honest men, and lunatics are more sensitively left-sided than either of the other two.”
If you happen to be left handed, don’t worry too much, because he added the following words of consolation:
“I do not dream at all of saying that all left-handed people are wicked, but that left-handedness, united to many other traits, may contribute to form one of the worst characters among the human species.”
Of course, Lombroso’s theories soon became outdated, mainly because he failed to produce any real proof to support his generalisations.
Today, we tend to view these kinds of general theories as misleading and potentially dangerous– but a group of scientists recently revisited the question.
Identifying Paedophiles by Personal Features
A 2015 Canadian study claims that those who sexually abuse children are more likely to exhibit “minor physical anomalies” (MPA’s), which are defined as slight differences in appearance that have no medical consequences.
The study looked at 153 individuals, suggesting that sexual attraction to children develops before birth, along with other characteristics such as left- or right-handedness and minor physical abnormalities.
It found that paedophiles typically have some of the following features:
- Curved fifth finger;
- A third toe longer than the second toe;
- Non-detached ear lobes;
- Shorter in height;
- More frequent head injuries before the age of 13 (but not after);
- Poorer performance on tests of verbal and visuospatial memory; and
- Lower IQ score;
What Does the Study Suggest?
The study appears to suggest that paedophilia is prenatal, and perhaps solidified very early in life.
Its findings form the basis for an argument that MPAs – except for early head injuries – are linked to genetics and/or prenatal factors. The authors state that some of the MPAs may result from the pregnant mother contracting a virus, taking drugs or drinking alcohol, or other disruptive events during pregnancy.
The study reports that the MPAs are not just linked to paedophilia, but also to schizophrenia, foetal alcohol syndrome and autism.
The study contradicts other research which suggests that sexual attraction to children is learned or developed later in life, sometimes in response to personal exposure to sexual abuse.
It had hoped to assist in the early detection of paedophilic tendencies and help prevent paedophiles from acting upon their impulses. But there is an argument that the findings are of limited value due to the relatively small sample size, and may lead to unfair and inaccurate stereotyping and discrimination.
In fairness, the authors recognised the study’s limitations and pointed out that more research in the area is required.