Friday, 27 January 2012

Crime in your genes?

Research by Dr J C Barnes et al, from the University of Texas, Dallas, claims to have found a strong genetic link between genes and criminality. However, Dr Barnes also believes there is no single criminality gene:-

The overarching conclusions were that genetic influences in life-course persistent offending were larger than environmental influences. For abstainers, it was roughly an equal split: genetic factors played a large role and so too did the environment. For adolescent-limited offenders, the environment appeared to be most important.

If we’re showing that genes have an overwhelming influence on who gets put onto the life-course persistent pathway, then that would suggest we need to know which genes are involved and at the same time, how they’re interacting with the environment so we can tailor interventions.

But there are likely to be hundreds, if not thousands, of genes that will incrementally increase your likelihood of being involved in a crime even if it only ratchets that probability by 1 percent. It still is a genetic effect. And it’s still important.

Honestly, I hope people when they read this, take issue and start to debate it and raise criticisms because that means people are considering it and people are thinking about it.

As ever, this kind of nature/nurture research comes across, at least to me, as inconclusive, simply because there is no demonstration of a gene causing a criminal act. Maybe that is too stringent a requirement, but until it is met, there is no demonstration of cause and effect. Even so, the attitude expressed in the last paragraph is refreshing.

What about the comment so we can tailor interventions though? Where does that lead us I wonder?


Sam Vega said...

It seems fairly obvious that there can be no single "criminality gene", as crime is a social construct and traits which are deplored in one time and place are lauded when circumstances change.

America has for some years been keen on aborting its underclass, so any relaxation in abortion law would constitute a "successful" intervention. The UK model is to give billions in state funds to criminals to bribe them not to re-offend. This is a far more successful model, as it can incorporate a huge number of job-creation schemes via welfare programmes, etc.

rogerh said...

Possibly true, but unhelpful. Probably we are all a bit criminal, indeed some deception, lying and so on all go into the mix of selflessness, greed, honesty, integrity, love and kindness that make us human. So I don't like the smell of 'tailor interventions' although I imagine they are rather good at it down in Texas.

I recommend Dr Barnes et al consider 'There but for the Grace of God go I' and make their next study 'The influence of middle class homes plus a trust-fund on criminality'.

James Higham said...

And here was me thinking it was all down to the occipital lobe.

John Page said...

Better check no one falsified the results :)

A K Haart said...

SV - maybe UK genes cause us to bribe those criminals (:

rogerh - "Possibly true, but unhelpful" I agree - sums it up.

JH - actually I'm sure neuroscientists would love it to be somewhere specific.

JP - absolutely - psychologists need their genes looking at too. Shifty lot (: