Varieties of delinquent youth

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Reviews the book, Varieties Of Delinquent Youth by William H. Sheldon, with the collaboration of Emil M. Hartl and Eugene McDermott (see record 1950-02710-000). Sheldon's unique brand of constitutional psychology is a social phenomenon, and with all of the zeal of a prophet he is confessedly preaching as hard as he can to make it a religion. Being convinced that in the technique of somatotypy he has a key not only to the problems of delinquency, psychiatry and psychology generally, but indeed to the gravest issues with which the world is wrestling, he feels duty bound to do what he can to save mankind's collective neck. Hence the present four-pound tract. Sheldon's research sample cannot be considered representative of anything, and one should be cautious on this ground in accepting the author's incautious generalizations from it. Before coping with the problems of describing and classifying delinquency, Sheldon says, he found it necessary to do something about the “Babel in psychiatry.” Early in the study it became plain to him that criminology and psychiatry were one field. Sizeable correlations between the psychiatric components and those of physique were found, and patients in whom the different psychiatric components were dominant had quite different distributions of somatotypes: the Dionysians were mostly “burgeoned” (that is a Sheldonism for well filled out, fleshy) mesomorphic endomorphs; the paranoids tended to be ectomorphic mesomorphs, lean but hard and solid; while the hebephrenics were largely ectomorphs of various kinds. The reviewer points out several of the problems of Sheldon's methods and conclusions. From his diagnosis, that delinquency is overwhelmingly hereditary in nature, Sheldon's solution follows naturally enough: we must attack the eugenic problem and prevent inferior stock from reproducing itself. Among other criticisms, Sheldon's use of the term “religion” is examined by the reviewer. With its pseudo-objectivity, its inherent interest, its good readability and to uncritical minds its plausibility, it is a dangerous book, likely to do a great deal of damage. In the long run Sheldon may discredit the study of constitution, and give a severe set-back to the balanced organismic psychology that is sorely needed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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