In researching for my newspaper column on local history I came across an article about a psychological study conducted in 1934 at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

The article was of interest for several reasons. One, because the penitentiary involved is in my home territory. Another was because of the quirky nature of the some of the results reported in the study.

The examination involved some 800 inmates and was conducted by the Public Health Service under the leadership of Dr. Michael J. Pescor. Dr. Pescor was a respected clinician who developed a reputation as an authority on criminology and drug addiction.

The study at Lewisburg used as its basis a personality test originated by Professor R. E. Woodworth of Columbia University. To quote the report: “Every phase of the prisoner’s life before his entrance to the penitentiary is unfolded as the doctor puts pertinent questions to him which bring out his psycho-neurotic tendencies. They delve into the prisoner’s family history, his medical record, his experience in early childhood, and even ask him to what degree he can tolerate offensive odors.”

The study found that a majority of the prisoners gave answers about the same as ordinary citizens, except “…most worry easily, are irritable, have little or no sense of humor, and complain often of a bodily pain which does not exist in reality.”

Personally, I’d say those exceptions were pretty broad, though they might have been influenced by the fact of incarceration. The study also appears not to have taken into consideration the possibility the men were lying or boasting in response to some questions.

Regarding those inmates who were found to be emotionally unstable, the report said these were primarily composed of habitual criminals, chronic drunkards and men who had a disrupted home life before they were 16. Nearly all blamed their trouble on drinking.

Here’s the conclusion I found most interesting: “This group (the emotionally unstable) averages about an inch less in height than the stable group, and also average slightly more than seven pounds less in weight.”

So, does being short in height and light in weight indicate a propensity for a life of crime?

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Comment by I. J. Parker on October 16, 2009 at 4:27am
No. It indicates possible emotional instability. I expect it's a macho thing.

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