Whether Crime is Genetic or Environmental
Crime and human behavior have been of interest to psychologists and criminologists for decades. Various studies have been done in psychology in to establish the cause of antisocial and in particular criminal behavior. The role of genetics and the environment have received considerable interest from both psychologists and criminologists. Among genetic factors that have commonly been associated with antisocial behavior include MAOA genes, the actions of dopamine, serotin and 5-HT transporter gene. Behaviors that have been attributed to genetic function such as ADHD have been cited to be the cause of unstable behavior including, aggressiveness. Low self control has also been associated with antisocial behavior in teenage such as alcohol and drug abuse, violence and even suicide. The environmental impact on criminal behavior cannot be underestimated in psychology. A significant number of studies have exhibited that the upbringing of a child, the societal structure and the general environmental interaction with a person determines the likelihood of committing crime. Although genetic factors and environmental factors have been separately considered to cause crime, majority of scholars have come to a conclusion that crime is a product of genetic and environmental interaction.
Psychologists have for decades attempted to understand the role of nature and nurture in influencing antisocial behavior, and in particular criminal behavior. Whether individual`s genetic makeup influences criminal behavior or their interaction with the environment is an issue that to date has been given considerable interest by psychologists and criminologists. Crime is inherent to every society regardless of its level of civilization, such as education, social economic status among other social parameters. This has been the basis for most studies looking at the genetic association of antisocial behavior such as aggressiveness, violence, and crime. In addition, proponents of the environment impact on behavior have argued their case that antisocial behavior including crime, is as a result of structural settings or interaction with the environment. Of great importance is the literature wide literature that has harmoniously amalgamated the role of the genetic makeup of a person and the environment in explaining antisocial behavior and crime for that matter. This relationship is known as the gene-environment interaction (GxE). Understanding of crime from psychological research may have significant impact on policy making as well as individual and business world. Crime is a function of genetic and environment and cannot be exclusively associated to one factor.
Understanding Criminal Behavior
To clearly understand the way the environment and genes influence criminal behavior, it is important to have a clear definition of criminal behavior. In the human society, law is defined by legal and social institutions and not biology or psychology (Morley & Hall, 2003). As such, defining what amounts to criminal behavior can entail a wide range of activities, which prompts researchers to focus on the broader spectrum of antisocial behavior. Antisocial behavior has been defined in three ways by Molly and Hall (2003), first antisocial behavior is equated to with criminality and delinquency which entail engaging the law. Criminality for adults can result to arrests, conviction, or imprisonment whereas delinquency is associated with youths behaving against the law. Secondly, the authors recommend the definition of antisocial behavior by use of criteria used to diagnose some personality problems. These include antisocial personality disorder linked with an augmented risk in criminal behavior. Finally, they suggest that antisocial behavior should be defined by examining personality traits that are likely to influence individual`s criminal behavior such as aggressiveness, low self control, and impulsivity.
Genetics and crime have been widely associated. In 1993, there was a study that cited an X associated mutation linked with mild retardation, aggressiveness and criminal behavior in a certain Dutch family. This mutation leads to absolute deficiency of monoamine oxidase (MAOA), an enzyme which metabolizes the neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline and serotin (Powledge, 1996). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found in the brain associated with the pleasure and reward system in the body. It control emotional stability of an individual and may lead to aggressiveness or loss of self control. For example, the connection between some dopaminergic genes and bad behavior has been studied to establish the relationship between some dopamine genes and antisocial behavior. Three dopamine genes have been identified including DAT1, DR2 and DRD4 which are associated with antisocial behavior. Children possessing the risk allele on dopamine DRD4 and were raised without favorable care from their mothers were likely to exhibit externalizing behavioral problems unlike other children. In addition, children with the risk allele on DRD4 when poorly cared for exhibited optimal levels of sensation seeking. Children with no risk allele were not affected by parental care or upbringing (Barnes & Jacobs, 2013).
Several researchers, in an attempt to explain phenotype using GxE hypothesis, have established that, males with a certain genotype like the alleles for MAOA gene associated with minimal MAOA activity and were brought up being mistreated are more likely to have been charged for a violent crime as opposed to male who did not have the gene risk factor, although they were mistreated as children (Barnes & Jacobs, 2013). Further, despite individuals with the low MAOA allele exhibited more antisocial characteristics when harsh upbringing was evident they also exhibited minimal antisocial behaviors when not subjected to maltreatment unlike those carrying the high activity MAOA allele. Simons, et al. (2013) also argue that genes and the environment are important components in determining criminal behavior. They also believe that, genetic susceptibility plays a great role in influencing criminal behavior. A person with genetic susceptibility to criminal behavior may not necessarily exhibit this behavior, but the environment can trigger this behavior. In addition, the authors cite serotonin and dopamine as the cause for genetic sensitivity to environmental factors that result to violence behavior. Consequently, the gene identified by the researchers in this particular case may cause a person to exhibit impulsive aggression that may lead to committing various forms of crimes including attempted rape, arson among other criminal behaviors.
Another position that supports the role of genes in determining antisocial behavior is from Barnes, Beaver, & Boutwell (2011) work where they adopt Moffit (1993) argument of classifying offenders into two classes, the Life Course Persistent (LCP) offenders and the Adolescent Limited (AL) offenders. LCP offenders start to exhibit antisocial behavior during early childhood, continue through adolescence and are carried on to adulthood. This represents a small number of the population, but the significant number of crimes caused by this group explains the role of genes in determining criminal behavior (Burfeind & Bartusch, 2011). LCP offenders have a neuropsychologic deficits caused by genetic factors or any other factors such as postnatal influences which undermine the normal functioning of the brain. Besides cognitive deficits affecting this group, the adverse environments that they are brought up in aggravate their antisocial behavior (Barnes, et al., 2011). Failure of the environment to respond to the child in a suitable and prosocial manner affects the child`s behavior throughout their lifetime, hence their tendency to remain bound to antisocial behavior throughout their life.
Neuropsychological deficits combined with disadvantaged environments increase the likelihood of following an LCP path. Inherited cognitive abilities account for a certain portion (40-80 percent) which means that genetic factors alone cannot facilitate a person to become an LCP, although they work indirectly by influencing neuropsychological deficit levels (Barnes, et al., 2011). Barnes & Jacobs (2013) vehemently support that, genes are accountable for about half the variance in antisocial behavior and the rest of the variance is basically as a result of non-shared environment. Studies in molecular genetics have discovered the role of the environment in stimulating genetic effects in a process referred to as GxE. According to these studies has exhibited that some genetic effects are highly likely to show when mixed with environmental risk factors.
The rationality of GxE is that the impact of genetic risk factor on the production of a phenotype such as antisocial behavior varies across individuals depending on their experience with environmental risk factors or lack of exposure to these risk factors. Basically GxE focus on a nonadditive influence between genetic and environmental risk factors in determining antisocial behavior. Barnes & Jacobs (2013) argue that, a genetic risk factor may bear minimal or no effect on antisocial or criminal behavior in absence of a relatively low level environmental risk. This is a concept illustrated by terranova et al. (2013) in their study on alcohol dependence and criminal behavior. The genetic factors that cause a person to engage in antisocial behavior including alcoholism are trigger factors for crime.
Consequently the environment presents various challenges including unemployment which may trigger criminal behavior (Terranova, 2012 Einstadter & Henry, 2006). Walsh (1992) also argues that crime can be attributed to intelligence, which is a genetic factor. He believes that people of social economic status are likely to have low intelligence, remain unemployed and hence engage in criminal activities. Higher society individuals have high intelligence and thus refrain from crime. When environmental risk level is high, the effect of the genetic risk factors becomes higher. Another suggestion of genetic role in development of LCP offenders is the fact that LCP offenders start to exhibit severe antisocial behavior as children. The factors that facilitate antisocial behavior during childhood are the same that cause them to be LCP offenders. Ultimately, behavioral genetic studies show that antisocial behavior result from genetic control.
The AL offenders are only engaged in antisocial behavior during their adolescence. They are not involved in worrying antisocial behavior during childhood, neither do they continue with antisocial behavior in onset of adulthood. AL offenders` problematic behavior during adolescent has been explained by their need to bridge the gap between their social and biological maturity. The reason for not continuing with antisocial behavior during early adulthood is due to the fact that, they are given more privileges and rights to match their biological to their social maturity. Genes are known to control various biological functions that instigate adolescent. As adolescence is genetically influenced, the possibility that abstaining behaviors are also caused by the same factors exist. Consequently genetic factors have been related to personality traits. This also clearly shows that genes play a part in driving antisocial behavior. If the AL had the genes that influenced antisocial behavior, they would become LCP offenders (Barnes, et al., 2011). However, Raine (1993) cited in (Barnes, et al., 2011) argues that antisocial behavior during adolescence is genetically motivated. This is because, in teenage delinquency is normative and environmental factors tends to be more influential for adolescents offending than in adult offending. This clearly shows the interconnection between environments and genes in determining crime. Lastly there is another group called the abstainers who throughout their life are never involved in antisocial behavior. This group does not have the genetic or the environmental pressure to drive them to antisocial behavior. They are also not in crisis in matching their social and biological maturity. Abstainers do not associate with antisocial peers and Moffit associated this abstinence to peer association as characterized by genes (Barnes, et al., 2011).
Environment has been for several decades explored in relation to crime by criminologists and psychologists. The environment and the structural factors influence an individual`s tendency to aggressiveness. Neighborhood disadvantage causes a person to commit crime. These include factors such as unemployment, lack of basic needs, and lack of education among other social issues that make life unbearable. People who are in advantaged neighborhood have minimal drive to committing crime.
Low self control or lack of self control is a determinant of antisocial and criminal behavior. According to Boisvert, Wright, Knopik, &Vaske (2012) low self control and antisocial behaviors including criminal behaviors result from genetic as well as environmental factors. People who have poor self control are said to be impulsive, physical, insensitive, adventurous, short – sighted and nonverbal in character. Self control develops from childhood depending on the parental upbringing. The role of the environment is thereby very important in developing self control. Consequently, the role of genetics in a person`s self control has been evident.
Criminological studies have shown that genetic factors have considerable influence on self control. Beaver et al. (2009) found in his study that the variance in self control was greatly due to genetic factors amounting to 78% while the rest 28% was as a result of the environmental factors. Lack of self control or low self control is associated with criminal behavior. Boisvert, et al. (2012) established that children with Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) a condition that is influenced by genetics have low self control and are regularly involved in delinquent behaviors. This situation is enhanced by the environment factors. Children with ADHD who have been brought up in an uncaring manner, i.e. without discipline are highly likely to engage in delinquency and aggressive behavior that may lead to their incarceration (Boisvert, et al., 2012). Consequently, children with ADHD that have been well managed in childhood are less likely to engage in antisocial behavior, hence criminal behavior. This shows that criminal behavior is as a result of genetic-environmental interaction (GxE).
Genetic and Environmental Factors Independent Influence on Crime
Some scholars such as Retz, Retz-Junginger, Supprian, Thome, and Rösler (2004) argue that criminal behavior is as a result of genetic function. According to the authors, instability in central serotin (5-HT) function influences impulsive aggression and criminal behavior and violence. A deletion or an insertion polymorphism in the 5-HT transporter including 5-HTT promoter gene is responsible for various psychopathological phenotypes associated with unstable impulse control, anxiety as well as depression. Unstable impulse control as well as depression is serious problems that can lead a person to emotional instability, aggressiveness, criminal behavior as well as suicide. Reduced serotin is associated with ADHD a genetic condition in childhood that has been cited as a cause for loss of self control and can lead to criminal behavior (Retz, et al., 2004).
On the other hand, Darwin argues that genetics have no role to play in criminal behavior. His theory is focused on the role of society (environment) in developing criminal behavior (Miles, 2000). The society according to Darwin is responsible for shaping a child to be a good citizen or a bad citizen. This view overlooks the role of genes in influencing criminal behavior. This is because, despite children being brought up in the same environment, say a crime prone environment, some takes a different path from crime as evidenced by most GxE studies such as Barnes & Jacobs (2013).
Implications of Criminology
The study of genetics and environmental relations to crime can be of significant in crime control in the society. Levitt & Pieri (2009) argue that genetic testing could be useful or can hinder society. In their analysis, the authors concluded that genetic testing alone cannot help children or the society. They recommend that genetic testing should guide parenting style for positive results to be achieved. The role of MAOA genes has been of interest in the prevention of crime. As GxE advocates argue, MAOA genes influence on crime is also affected by environmental factors. The presence of crime causing genes may not necessarily lead one to crime, but they are triggered by the environmental factors.
In addition, genetic testing may affect social, economic and political relations in a society. For example Powledge (1996) argues that the possible implications on genetic association with crime are genetic discrimination, from economic pressures. For example insurance companies may seek to exclude individuals identified as genetically vulnerable so as to minimize their costs. People may also be stigmatized if found to have genes that are known to cause crime. This may include children in school being stigmatized by peers adults stigmatized in the workplace and may affect individual choices since they may be confined in the belief that they are bound to be criminals. The legal system use of genetic testing may also face opposition. In the case where a guy shot a Dominos Pizza manager, his layers tried to argue on basis of the fact that, the perpetrator was genetically framed to be a criminal (Powledge, 1996). However critics argue that, the crime could not have happened if there was no availability of a gun. This shows that the concept of criminal behavior can only be fully understood in terms of genetic and environmental interaction. Miles (2000) is also in support of the environmental or societal role in determining criminal behavior argues that in order to have justice system, we only act on free will to determine right or wrong behavior. As such, Darwin believes that judging a criminal is unfair, as the society is entirely to blame for producing this behavior.
Implication for Psychology
The realization that criminal behavior or generally antisocial behavior is a subject of genetic and environmental factors is important for psychological research and study of human behavior. The theories of child cognitive and social development in psychology fail to link their behavior to genetics as much as they associate them to environment factors. This position is meant to give insight to scholars in psychology to further explore the relationship between various genes and their susceptibility to antisocial and criminal behavior (Marsh & Melville, 2006). The role of the environment in determining behavior which is widely accepted in psychology field must recognize that genetics are the underlying factors that cause crime.
Psychologists and criminologists have shown incredible interest in studying criminal behavior. The role of genetic factors and environmental factors in determining criminal behavior has changed the view of crime in the society. Genetic testing that has been advocated by criminologists to help deter crime, continue to elicit controversy as opponents argue that it is likely to prompt discrimination of individuals in social-economic context. Darwin however advocate that genetic testing go hand in hand with societal changes, particularly parenting approach to help a child grow in the desirable path and avoid delinquent behavior and criminal behavior in childhood. As such, the society should strive to ensure that the environment is favorable for every person regardless of their genetic vulnerability so as to reduce environmental risk factors such as unemployment, alcoholism, domestic violence, crime drug abuse and other antisocial behavior which trigger criminal behavior.
Barnes, J. C., & Jacobs, B. A. (2013). Genetic risk for violent behavior and environmental exposure to disadvantage and violent crime: The case for gene – environment interaction. Journal Of Interpersonal Violence, 28(1), 92-120. doi:10.1177/088626051244884.
Barnes, J. C., Beaver, K. M., &Boutwell, B. B. (2011). Examining the genetic underpinnings to Moffitt`s developmental taxonomy: A behavioral genetic analysis. Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 49(4), 923-954. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2011.00243.
Beaver, K. M., Boutwell, B. B., Barnes, J. C., & Cooper, J. A. (2009). The biosocial
Boisvert, D., Wright, J., Knopik, V., &Vaske, J. (2012). Genetic and environmental overlap between low self-control and delinquency. Journal Of Quantitative Criminology, 28(3), 477-507. doi:10.1007/s10940-011-9150.
Burfeind, J. & Bartusch, D. (2011). Juvenile delinquency : an integrated approach. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
criminal acts? Trends and Issues in Crime and Justice, 263, 1-6.
Einstadter, W. & Henry, S. (2006). Criminological theory : an analysis of its underlying assumptions. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.
Levitt, M., &Pieri, E. (2009). “It could just be an additional test couldn`t it?” Genetic testing for susceptibility to aggression and violence. New Genetics & Society, 28(2), 189-200. doi:10.1080/14636770902901629.
Marsh, I. & Melville, G. (2006). Theories of crime. London New York: Routledge.
Miles, J. (2000). Darwin`s final message: we have no honour. Children & Society, 14(2), 110-120.
Morley, K. I., & Hall, W. D. (2003). Is there a genetic susceptibility to engage in
Retz, W., Retz-Junginger, P., Supprian, T., Thome, J., & Rösler, M. (2004). Association of serotonin transporter promoter gene polymorphism with violence: relation with personality disorders, impulsivity, and childhood ADHD psychopathology. Behavioral Sciences &The Law, 22(3), 415-425. doi:10.1002/bsl.589
Simons, R. L., Simons, L., Lei, M., Beach, S. H., Brody, G. H., Gibbons, F. X., & Philibert, R. A. (2013). Genetic moderation of the impact of parenting on hostility toward romantic partners. Journal Of Marriage & Family, 75(2), 325-341. doi:10.1111/jomf.12010.
Terranova, C., Tucci, M., Sartore, D., Cavarzeran, F., Barzon, L., Palù, G., & Ferrara, S. D. (2012). Alcohol dependence and criminal behavior: Preliminary results of an association study of environmental and genetic factors in an Italian male population. Journal Of Forensic Sciences (Wiley-Blackwell), 57(5), 1343-1348. doi:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2012.02243.
twins. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 7, 223-238.
underpinnings to adolescent victimization: Results from a longitudinal sample of
Walsh, A. (1992). Genetic and environmental explanations of juvenile violence in advantaged and disadvantaged environments. Aggressive Behavior, 18(3), 187-199.