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Somatotype and constitutional psychology

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Somatotype is a theory proposed in the 1940s by the American psychologist William Herbert Sheldon to categorize the human physique according to the relative contribution of three fundamental elements which he termed somatotypes, classified by him as ectomorphic, mesomorphic, and endomorphic. He created these terms borrowing from the three germ layers of embryonic development: The endoderm (which develops into the digestive tract), the mesoderm (which becomes muscle, heart, and blood vessels) and the ectoderm (which forms the skin and nervous system).[1] Later variations of these categories, developed by his original research assistant Barbara Heath, and later by Lindsay Carter and Rob Rempel, are used by academics today.[2][3]

Constitutional psychology is a theory developed by Sheldon in the 1940s, which attempted to associate his somatotype classifications with human temperament types.[4][5] The foundation of these ideas originated with Francis Galton and eugenics.[2] Sheldon and Earnest Hooton were seen as leaders of a school of thought, popular in anthropology at the time, which held that the size and shape of a person's body indicated intelligence, moral worth and future achievement.[2]

In his 1954 book, Atlas of Men, Sheldon categorized all possible body types according to a scale ranging from 1 to 7 for each of the three somatotypes, where the pure endomorph is 7–1–1, the pure mesomorph 1–7–1 and the pure ectomorph scores 1–1–7.[6][7][8] From type number, an individual's mental characteristics could supposedly be predicted.[7] In a late version of a pseudoscientific thread within criminology in which criminality is claimed to be an innate characteristic that can be recognized through particular physiognomic markers (as in Cesare Lombroso's theory of phrenology), Sheldon contended that criminals tended to be 'mesomorphic'.[9] The system of somatotyping is still in use in the field of physical education.[10]

The three types[edit]

Comparison of Sheldon's body types

Sheldon's "somatotypes" and their associated physical and psychological traits were characterized as follows:[3][8][11]

Somatotype Physical traits Psychological traits Notes
Ectomorphic characterized as skinny, weak, and usually tall with low testosterone levels described as intelligent, gentle and calm, but self-conscious, introverted and anxious. [3][6][8][12]
Mesomorphic characterized as naturally hard and strong, with even weight distribution, muscular, thick-skinned, and as having good posture with narrow waist described as competitive, extroverted, and tough. [3][6][8]
Endomorphic     characterized as fat, usually short, and having difficulty losing weight described as outgoing, friendly, happy and laid-back, but also lazy and selfish [3][6][8]


There may be some evidence that different physiques carry cultural stereotypes, as some cultures are more prone to certain physiques. According to one study endomorphs are likely to be perceived as slow, sloppy, and lazy. Mesomorphs, in contrast, are typically stereotyped as popular and hardworking, whereas ectomorphs are often viewed as intelligent yet fearful.[13]

Heath–Carter formula[edit]

Sheldon's physical taxonomy is still in use, particularly the Heath–Carter variant of the methodology.[14] This formulaic approach utilises an individual's weight (kg), height (cm), upper arm circumference (cm), maximal calf circumference (cm), femur breadth (cm), humerus breadth (cm), triceps skinfold (mm), subscapular skinfold (mm), supraspinal skinfold (mm), and medial calf skinfold (mm), and remains popular in anthropomorphic research, according to Rempel: "with modifications by Parnell in the late 1950s, and by Heath and Carter in the mid 1960s somatotype has continued to be the best single qualifier of total body shape".[15]

This variant utilizes the following series of equations to assess a subject's traits against each of the three somatotypes, each assessed on a seven-point scale, with 0 indicating no correlation and 7 indicating a very strong correlation:


  • Ectomorphy : Calculate the subject's Ponderal Index:
    • If ,
    • If ,
    • If ,

This numerical approach has gone on to be incorporated in the current sports science and physical education curriculums of numerous institutions, ranging from the UK's secondary level GCSE curriculums (14- to 16-year-olds), the Indian UPSC Civil Service exams, to MSc programs worldwide, and has been utilized in numerous academic papers, including:


"The Varieties of Human Physique" by Sheldon et al (1940) classified body types into three categories using data processes that would not be accepted by researchers today.[30] Sheldon's ideas that body type was an indicator of temperament, moral character or potential – while popular in an atmosphere accepting of the theories of eugenics – were later disputed.[2][31]

A key criticism of Sheldon's constitutional theory is that it was not a theory at all but a general assumption of continuity between structure and behavior and a set of descriptive concepts to measure physique and behavior in a scaled manner.[3] His use of thousands of photographs of naked Ivy League undergraduates, obtained without explicit consent from a pre-existing program evaluating student posture, has been strongly criticized.[2][32]

While popular in the 1950s,[32] Sheldon's claims have since been dismissed as "quackery".[3][4][33][34][35] Barbara Honeyman Heath, who was Sheldon's main assistant in compiling Atlas of Men, accused him of falsifying the data he used in writing the book.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hollin, Clive R. (2012). Psychology and Crime: An introduction to criminological psychology. Routledge. p. 59. ISBN 978-0415497039.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Vertinsky, P. (2007). "Physique as destiny: William H. Sheldon, Barbara Honeyman Heath, and the struggle for hegemony in the science of somatotyping". Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. 24 (2): 291–316. doi:10.3138/cbmh.24.2.291. PMID 18447308.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Roeckelein, Jon E. (1998). "Sheldon's type theory". Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology. Greenwood. pp. 427–428. ISBN 9780313304606.
  4. ^ a b Rafter, N. (2008). "Somatotyping, antimodernism, and the production of criminological knowledge". Criminology. 45 (4): 805–33. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2007.00092.x.
  5. ^ "Constitutional Theory". The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. Penguin Books. 2009. ISBN 9780141030241 – via Credo Reference.
  6. ^ a b c d Mull, Amanda (2018-11-06). "Americans can't escape long-disproven body stereotypes". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  7. ^ a b Sheldon, W.H. (1954). Atlas of Men: A guide for somatotyping the adult male at all ages. New York: Harper.
  8. ^ a b c d e Kamlesh, M.L. (2011). "Ch. 15: Personality and sport § Sheldon's constitutional typology". Psychology in the Physical Education and Sport. Pinnacle Technology. ISBN 9781618202482.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ di Cristina, Bruce; Gottschalk, Martin; Mayzer, Roni (2014). "Four currents of criminological thought". In Bruce Arrigo; Heather Bersot (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of International Crime and Justice Studies. Routledge. pp. 13–15. ISBN 978-1-136-86850-4.
  10. ^ Kathirgamam, Vijayakumar; Ambike, Mandar; Bokan, Raju; Bharambe, Vaishaly; Prasad, Arun (2020-04-15). "Analyzing the effects of exercise prescribed based on health-related fitness assessment among different somatotypes". Journal of Health Sciences. 10 (1): 83–89. doi:10.17532/jhsci.2020.876. ISSN 1986-8049. S2CID 218816659.
  11. ^ Timmermans, Floyd; Jansen, Britt; Mokken, Sterre; Heer, Merel; Veen, Kevin; Bouman, Mark-Bram; Mullender, Margriet; Grift, Tim (2021-02-17). "The ideal location of the male nipple-areolar complex: A pinpointing algorithm". International Journal of Transgender Health. 22 (4): 403–411. doi:10.1080/26895269.2021.1884926. hdl:1765/135046. PMC 10561627. PMID 37818394. S2CID 233928744.
  12. ^ "What is your body type?". 2014-04-24. Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  13. ^ Ryckman, R.M.; Robbins, M.A.; Kaczor, L.M.; Gold, J.A. (1989). "Male and female raters' stereotyping of male and female physiques". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 15 (2): 244–251. doi:10.1177/0146167289152011. S2CID 145753602.
  14. ^ Norton, Kevin; Olds, Tim (1996). Anthropometrica: A Textbook of Body Measurement for Sports and Health Courses. Australian Sports Commission; UNSW Press. ISBN 978-0868402239.
  15. ^ Rempel, R (1994). A Modified Somatotype Assessment Methodology. Simon Fraser University. ISBN 978-0-612-06785-1.
  16. ^ Kerr, D; Ross, WD; Norton, K; Hume, P; Kagawa, Masaharu (2007). "Olympic Lightweight and Open Rowers possess distinctive physical and proportionality characteristics for selecting elite athletes" (PDF). Journal of Sports Sciences. 25 (1): 43–53. doi:10.1080/02640410600812179. PMID 17127580. S2CID 19851908.
  17. ^ Sánchez-Muñoz, C; Sanz, D; Mikel Zabala, M (November 2007). "Anthropometric characteristics, body composition and somatotype of elite junior tennis players". Br J Sports Med. 41 (11): 793–799. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2007.037119. PMC 2465306. PMID 17957016.
  18. ^ Lewandowska, J; Buśko, K; Pastuszak, A; Boguszewska, K (2011). "Somatotype Variables Related to Muscle Torque and Power in Judoists". Journal of Human Kinetics. 30 (2011): 21–28. doi:10.2478/v10078-011-0069-y. PMC 3588646. PMID 23487284.
  19. ^ Papadopoulou, S (January 2003). de Ridder, H.; Olds, T. (eds.). "Anthropometric characteristics and body composition of Greek elite women volleyball players". Kinanthropometry VII (7 ed.). Pochefstroom University for CHE: 93–110.
  20. ^ Purenović-Ivanović, T; Popović, R (April 2014). "Somatotype of Top-Level Serbian Rhythmic Gymnasts". Journal of Human Kinetics. 40 (1): 181–187. doi:10.2478/hukin-2014-0020. ISSN 1899-7562. PMC 4096098. PMID 25031686.
  21. ^ Irurtia Amigó, Alfredo (2009). "Height, weight, somatotype and body composition in elite Spanish gymnasts from childhood to adulthood". Apunts Med Esport. 61: 18–28.
  22. ^ Petroski (2013). "Anthropometric, morphological and somatotype characteristics of athletes of the Brazilian Men's volleyball team: an 11-year descriptive study". Brazilian Journal of Kineanthropometry & Human Performance. 15 (2): 184.
  23. ^ Leake, Christopher N.; Carter, JE (1991). "Comparison of body composition and somatotype of trained female triathletes". Journal of Sports Sciences. 9 (2): 125–135. doi:10.1080/02640419108729874. PMID 1895351.
  24. ^ Yang, LT (2015). "Study on the adult physique with the Heath-Carter anthropometric somatotype in the Han of Xi'an, China". Anat Sci Int. 91 (2): 180–7. doi:10.1007/s12565-015-0283-0. PMID 25940679. S2CID 29933361.
  25. ^ Baltadjiev, AG (2013). "Somatotype characteristics of female patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus". Folia Med (Plovdiv). 55 (1): 64–9. doi:10.2478/folmed-2013-0007. PMID 23905489. S2CID 45784636.
  26. ^ Baltadjiev, AG (2012). "Somatotype characteristics of male patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus". Folia Med (Plovdiv). 54 (2): 40–5. doi:10.2478/v10153-011-0087-5. PMID 23101284. S2CID 3618307.
  27. ^ Noh; et al. (2013). "Somatotype analysis of elite Taekwondo athletes compared to non-athletes for sports health sciences". Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences. 5 (4): 189–196. doi:10.1007/s13530-013-0178-1. S2CID 16963270.
  28. ^ Stewarta; et al. (2014). "Somatotype: a more sophisticated approach to body image work with eating disorder sufferers". Advances in Eating Disorders: Theory, Research and Practice. 2 (2): 125–135. doi:10.1080/21662630.2013.874665. S2CID 145547027.
  29. ^ Pourbehzadi; et al. (2012). "The Relationship between Posture and Somatotype and Certain Biomechanical Parameters of Iran Women's National Dragon Boat Team". Annals of Biological Research. 3 (7): 3657–3662.
  30. ^ Maddan, Sean; Walker, Jeffery T.; Miller, J. Mitchell (2009). "The BMI as a somatotypic measure of physique:A rejoinder to Jeremy E.C. Genovese". The Social Science Journal. 46 (2): 394–401. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2009.04.006. S2CID 144994945.
  31. ^ Vertinsky (2007). "Body type". In Reynolds, Cecil R.; Fletcher-Janzen, Elaine (eds.). Encyclopedia of Special Education: A reference for the education of children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and other exceptional individuals (3rd ed.). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. ISBN 9780471678021. Retrieved 2014-11-20 – via Credo Reference.
  32. ^ a b Rosenbaum, Ron (15 January 1995). "The great ivy league nude posture photo scandal". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  33. ^ Zentner, Marcel; Shiner, Rebecca L. (2012). Handbook of Tempermaent. Guilford Press. p. 6. ISBN 9781462506514 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ Ryckman, Richard M. (2007). Theories of Personality (9th ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 260–261. ISBN 9780495099086 – via Google Books.
  35. ^ "Nude photos are sealed at Smithsonian". The New York Times. 21 January 1995. Retrieved 1 December 2011.


  • Gerrig, Richard; Zimbardo, Phillip G. (2002). Psychology and Life (16th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0-205-33511-X.
  • Hartl, Emil M.; Monnelly, Edward P.; Elderkin, Roland D. (1982). Physique and Delinquent Behavior (A Thirty-year Follow-up of William H. Sheldon's Varieties of Delinquent Youth). New York: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-328480-5.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]