Can Genetics Cause Crime?
Introduction to Criminal Justice System
Dr. Mike Carlie
Are genetic factors more likely to make one person perform violent acts?
Many doctors and researchers in the field of genetics have searched for a answer
to this question.
During 1989-93 one such researcher named Dr. Sullivan found some
interesting points about genetics and crime.
Sullivan while working for the Bush administration’s secretary of health
and human services during 1989-1993 was appalled by the epidemic of violent
crimes he saw taking place in American cities. According to Dr. Sullivan,
“more than 26,000 Americans were murdered,
and six million violent crimes were committed
with young men and minorities falling victim
most frequently”. Sullivan also reported that about one in every 27
black men, compared to one in every 205 white men, died violently also 1 in 117
black women met a untimely end as compared to white women which only 1 in 496
were killed due to violent crimes. This is not surprising that young males
commit most of the serious crimes. According to an article in Scientific
American, only 12.5 percent of violent crime in the U.S. in 1992 was committed
by females. What is also surprising according to W.W. Gibbs the author of
“Seeking the Criminal Element,” in Scientific American,(1995 March) pp 100-107,
is that a very small number of criminals are responsible for the majority of the
Sullivan who is now the president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in
Atlanta wanted to try and address the violence as a public health issue. In an
interview after he left office in 1993, Dr. Sullivan explains that his rational
for this was that the higher increases in violent crimes and specifically
homicide in the young male population in large cities. Which was higher than
any other social group in America at this time.
Dr. Sullivan then began to organize his department’s research resources
under the banner of the so called “Violence Initiative” as he put it. With the
predominant thought of looking at unemployment, poverty, the use of drugs and
any other factors that might help to contribute to the likelihood of causing
violence. Primarily Sullivans’ research was directed towards the psychological
and sociological point of view. Sullivan primarily working with the before
mentioned points and only worked lightly with the biological aspects, such as
race, gender, brain chemistry and genetic make up.
Dr. Sullivans research, did find some links between aggressive behavior,
and disturbances in the level of a chemical called Serotoin. Which is directly
related to certain genes. Although there was no conclusive proof that this
abnormal gene was completely responsible for a increases in violence, Another
study in 1993 also found a link between genes and violence. The X chromosome
mutation which was discovered in a certain Dutch family was found to be
associated with mild retardation and aggressive, sometimes violent criminal
behavior. The mutation causes complete deficiency of the enzyme monoamine
oxidase also called (maoa), which metabolizes the neurotransmitters serotonin,
dopamine, and noradrenaline.
According to David Goldman, a geneticist at the National Institute of
Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse points out,
“men who possess this abnormal
gene may typically engage in impulsive
aggression, but the time, place, type, and
seriousness of their crimes ( which include
exhibitionism, attempted rape, and arson)
have been diverse and unpredictable.”
Although these are examples of gene related violence, genetic
information so far has been fairly unpredictable. Finding a defect such as the
maoa mutation is an exceedingly rare event. Also according to Margret McCarthy
of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, what matters in not whether
someone possesses a gene, but whether that gene is expressed.
Although seems that genetics is unlikely to tell us much of practical
value about crime, other aspects of human biology may be more useful. Adrian
Rain of the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, showed cat scans
comparing brain activity in 42 murderers with that of an equal number of normal
controls. The murderers tended to have less prefrontal activity, was consistent
with Raine’s Hypothesis that a damaged prefrontal cortex can lead to impulsive
aggressive behavior. But murderers, like the rest of us, are a heterogeneous
group of people, Rain cautioned strongly against regarding such scans as
diagnostic. And that you can’t do brain scanning on everyone and tell if they
will commit murder. In short applying this kind of research to crime control
often raises ethical and political issues and the same can be expected of
genetic scanning and other aspects of biological research when it’s related to
It is possible that genetic research may eventually contribute something
to our knowledge of crime, and perhaps even to its control. But the
contribution will most likely be indirect. And any aspects of genetic disorders
or other biological factors, most likely will be contributed to other things
such as alcoholism and addictions rather than genes being blamed for the violent
behavior. Diana Fishbein, of the US Department of Justice states that,
criminologists need to call for more research into behavioral disorders and
attention disorders and certain other temperamental traits like impulstivity
that might be more likely to turn up better results in the fight against crime.
Gidds W.W. (1995,March) “Seeking the Criminal Element,”
Scientic American, pp 100-108.
Hallinan J. (1995, March 19th) “Prisons Becoming Major
Industry,” the Huntsville Times, pp A19-20.
Internet Address Text: emailprotected, Genetics and
Crime, By Wilson R.J. (1994),