Somatotype and constitutional psychology

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Somatotype is a taxonomy developed in the 1940s, by American psychologist William Herbert Sheldon, to categorise the human physique according to the relative contribution of three fundamental elements, somatotypes, named after the three germ layers of embryonic development: the endoderm, (develops into the digestive tract), the mesoderm, (becomes muscle, heart and blood vessels), and the ectoderm (forms the skin and nervous system).[1] His initial visual methodology has been discounted as subjective, but later formulaic variations of the methodology, developed by his original research assistant Barbara Heath, and later Lindsay Carter and Rob Rempel are still in academic use.[2][3][4]

Constitutional psychology is a now neglected theory, also developed by Sheldon in the 1940s, which attempted to associate his somatotype classifications with human temperament types.[5][6] 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 categorised 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.[7][8] From type number, an individual's mental characteristics could supposedly be predicted.[7] 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] Questions exist about her motivations in making these accusations.[2]

The three types

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

comparison of body types
  • Ectomorphic: characterized as linear, thin, usually tall, fragile, lightly muscled, flat chested and delicate; described as cerebrotonic inclined to desire isolation, solitude and concealment; and being tense, anxious, restrained in posture and movement, introverted and secretive.[3][8]
  • Mesomorphic: characterized as hard, rugged, triangular, athletically built with well developed muscles, thick skin and good posture; described as somatotonic inclined towards physical adventure and risk taking; and being vigorous, courageous, assertive, direct and dominant.[3][8]
  • Endomorphic: characterized as round, usually short and soft with under-developed muscles and having difficulty losing weight; described as viscerotonic enjoying food, people and affection; having slow reactions; and being disposed to complacency.[3][8]


There is evidence that different physiques carry cultural stereotypes. For example, one study found that 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 but fearful and usually take part in long distance sports, such as marathon running.[9] Stereotypes of mesomorphs are generally much more favorable than those of endomorphs.[citation needed] Stereotypes of ectomorphs are somewhat mixed.[citation needed]

Heath-Carter Formula

Though the psychological bindings have largely been neglected, Sheldon's physical taxonomy has persisted, particularly the Heath-Carter variant of the methodology. 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, as to quote Rob Rempel "With modifications by Parnell in the late 1950's, and by Heath and Carter in the mid 1960's somatotype has continued to be the best single qualifier of total body shape".[10]

This variant utilises the following series of equations to assess a subject's traits against each of the 3 somatotypes, each assessed on a 7-point scale, with 0 indicating no correlation and a 7 a very strong:

  • Endomorphy: = -0.7182 + (0.145 * X) - (0.00068 * X^2) + (0.0000014* X^3)
    • where:X  = (tricepSkinfoldMM + subscapularSkinfoldMM + supraspinalSkinfoldMM) * (\frac{170.18} {heightCM})
  • Mesomorphy: = (0.858 * HumerusBreadthCM) + (0.601 * FemurBreadthCM) + (0.188 * upperArmGirthCM) + (0.161 * maxCalfGirthCM) - (0.131 * heightCM) + 4.5
  • Ectomorphy : Calculate the subjects Ponderal Index: \text{PI}=\frac{mass}{height^3}
    • If PI > 40.74, Ectomorphy = (0.732 * PI) - 28.58
    • If 39.65 < PI < 40.74, Ectomorphy = (0.463 * PI) - 17.615
    • If PI < 39.65, Ectomorphy = 0.5

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 utilised in numerous academic papers, including:

  • Olympic Lightweight and Open Rowers possess distinctive physical and proportionality characteristics for selecting elite athletes; Kerr D, Ross WD, Norton K, Hume P, Kagawa, Masaharu; 2007; Journal of Sports Sciences 25(1):pp. 43–53.
  • Anthropometric characteristics, body composition and somatotype of elite junior tennis players; Sánchez‐Muñoz C, Sanz D, Mikel Zabala M; Br J Sports Med. 2007 Nov; 41(11): 793–799; doi:10.1136/bjsm.2007.037119
  • Somatotype Variables Related to Muscle Torque and Power in Judoists; Lewandowska et al.; Journal of Human Kinetics volume 30/2011, 21- 28 doi:10.2478/v10078-011-0069-y
  • Anthropometric characteristics and body composition of Greek elite women volleyball players; Papadopoulou S; Kinanthropometry VII, Edition: 7, Publisher: Pochefstroom University for CHE, Editors: H. de Ridder and T. Olds, pp. 93–110
  • Somatotype of Top-Level Serbian Rhythmic Gymnasts; Purenović-Ivanović T, Popović R; Journal of Human Kinetics. Volume 40, Issue 1, Pages 181–187, ISSN (Online) 1899-7562, ISSN (Print) 1640-5544, doi:10.2478/hukin-2014-0020, April 2014
  • Anthropometric characteristic, body composition and somatotype of Canadian female soccer players; Adhikari A, Nugent J; American Journal of Sports Science 01/2014; 2014(2(6-1)):14-18.
  • Anthropometric, morphological and somatotype characteristics of athletes of the Brazilian Men’s volleyball team: an 11-year descriptive study; Petroski et al. 2013, Brazilian Journal of Kineanthropometry & Human Performance;2013, Vol. 15 Issue 2, p184
  • Comparison of body composition and somatotype of trained female triathletes; Christopher N. Leake, 1989, Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1991, pages 125-135
  • Study on the adult physique with the Heath-Carter anthropometric somatotype in the Han of Xi'an, China; LT Yang, 2015, PMID 25940679
  • Somatotype characteristics of female patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus; AG Baltadjiev, 2013, PMID 23905489
  • Somatotype characteristics of male patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus; AG Baltadjiev, 2012, PMID 23101284
  • Anthropometrica: A Textbook of Body Measurement for Sports and Health Courses; Kevin Norton, Tim Olds, Australian Sports Commission, UNSW Press, 1996, ISBN 978-0868402239
  • Somatotype analysis of elite Taekwondo athletes compared to non-athletes for sports health sciences; Noh et al.; Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences; 2013, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 189–196
  • Somatotype: a more sophisticated approach to body image work with eating disorder sufferers; Stewarta et al.; Advances in Eating Disorders: Theory, Research and Practice, Volume 2, Issue 2, 2014; DOI:10.1080/21662630.2013.874665
  • The Relationship between Posture and Somatotype and Certain Biomechanical Parameters of Iran Women’s National Dragon Boat Team; Pourbehzadi et al.; Annals of Biological Research, 2012, 3 (7):3657-3662
  • Height, weight, somatotype and body composition in elite Spanish gymnasts from childhood to adulthood; Alfredo Irurtia Amigó; apunts med esport. 2009;161:18-28


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 soon widely vilified.[2][11]

The principal criticism of Sheldon's constitutional theory was that it was not a theory at all but one general assumption, 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 described as scandalous, and perverted ("the study of nude people by lewd people").[2][12]

His original visual assessment methodology, based on the photographs, has also been criticised as subjective.[2][3][4]

His original thesis has also been described as fraudulent for knowingly failing to acknowledge / account for body shape changing with age.[2]

His suggestion of a genetic link to both body shape and personality traits has also been described as objectional.[4]

Sheldon's work has also been criticised as being heavily burdened by his own stereotypical and discriminatory views.[2][5]

Sheldon's theories enjoyed a vogue through the 1950s.[12] Some modern scientists dismiss his claims using insults such as 'outdated' or 'quackery'.[3][4][5][13][14][15]

See also


  1. Hollin, Clive R. (2012). Psychology and Crime: An Introduction to Criminological Psychology. Routledge. p. 59. ISBN 0415497035. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 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. PMID 18447308.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Roeckelein, Jon E. (1998). "Sheldon's Type Theory". Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology. Greenwood. pp. 427–8. ISBN 9780313304606.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Genovese, JEC (2008). "Physique correlates with reproductive success in an archival sample of delinquent youth" (PDF). Evolutionary Psychology. 6 (3): 369–85. doi:10.1177/147470490800600301.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Constitutional Theory". The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. Penguin. 2009. ISBN 9780141030241 – via Credo Reference. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sheldon, William Herbert (1954). Atlas of Men: A Guide for Somatotyping the Adult Male at All Ages. New York: Harper.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Kamlesh, M.L. (2011). "Ch. 15: Personality and Sport § Sheldon's Constitutional Typology". Psychology in Physical Education and Sport. Pinnacle Technology. ISBN 9781618202482.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Ryckman, RM; Robbins, MA; Kaczor, LM; Gold, JA (1989). "Male and female raters' stereotyping of male and female physiques". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 15 (2): 244–51. doi:10.1177/0146167289152011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. A Modified Somatotype Assessment Methodology; Rempel R, 1994, Simon Fraser University, ISBN 978-0-612-06785-1
  11. "Body Type". Encyclopedia of Special Education: A Reference for the Education of Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Disabilities and Other Exceptional Individuals. Wiley. 2007. ISBN 9780471678021. Retrieved 2014-11-20 – via Credo Reference. Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Rosenbaum, Ron (January 15, 1995). "The great ivy league nude posture photo scandal". The New York Times. Retrieved December 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Zentner, Marcel; Shiner, Rebecca L. (2012). Handbook of Tempermaent. Guilford. p. 6. ISBN 9781462506514.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Ryckman, Richard M. (2007). Theories of Personality (9th ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 260–1. ISBN 9780495099086.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Nude photos are sealed at Smithsonian". The New York Times. January 21, 1995. Retrieved December 1, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Gerrig, Richard; Zimbardo, Phillip G. (2002). Psychology and Life (16th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0-205-33511-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Sheldon, William H. (1942). The Varieties of Temperament. New York; London: Harper & Brothers – via University of Delhi.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Carter, J.E. Lindsay; Heath, Barbara Honeyman (1990). Somatotyping-development and Applications. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521351170.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Arraj, Tyra; Arraj, James. "Ch. 4:William Sheldon's Body and Temperament Types". Tracking the Elusive Human. Vol. I. Midland, OR: Inner Growth. ISBN 0914073168 – via<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Coughlan, Robert (June 25, 1951). "What manner of morph are you?". Life. 30 (26). pp. 65–79 – via Google Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links