Positivist School | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology

The Positivist School of criminology is a theoretical perspective that views criminal behavior as the result of individual and societal factors that are beyond an individual’s control and emphasizes the use of scientific methods to understand and prevent crime.

Positivist criminology is a key theory in the study of criminal behavior. It suggests that crime is caused by aspects that individuals can’t control, such as biology, psychology, and social factors. This idea differs from earlier beliefs that people commit crimes purely by choice.

Biological Factors in Crime

One aspect of this theory focuses on biological factors. This includes genetics, brain development, and other physical traits. Scientists in this field study how these factors might make a person more likely to commit a crime.

Psychological Influences on Criminal Behavior

Another important area is psychology. Positivist criminologists look at mental health, personality, and intelligence. They explore how these mental factors might lead to criminal behavior.

Social Environment and Crime

Social factors are also crucial. This includes family background, education, and community. The theory suggests that people who grow up in challenging environments might be more prone to criminal activities.

Research and Evidence in Positivism

Evidence is key in positivist criminology. Criminologists use scientific methods to study crime. They conduct experiments, collect data, and analyze statistics. This approach helps to understand the complex reasons behind criminal behavior.

Positivism vs. Classical Criminology

In contrast to classical criminology, which emphasizes free will and moral responsibility, the Positivist School looks at external factors. It suggests that criminals may not always have full control or choice in their actions.

Impact on the Criminal Justice System

The Positivist School of criminology has influenced the criminal justice system. It has led to rehabilitation programs focusing on treating the underlying causes of crime. This approach aims to prevent future crimes by addressing these root issues.

Criticisms of Positivist Criminology

Despite its contributions, there are criticisms. Some argue it can lead to stereotyping and discrimination. Others believe it reduces individual responsibility for crimes.


The Positivist School of criminology has reshaped our understanding of crime. It looks at biological, psychological, and social factors, using scientific methods. This theory has had a significant impact on how we treat and prevent crime in society.


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Last Modified: 01/15/2024


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