Research Shows Genes Influence Criminal Behavior

EurekAlert, January 25, 2012

Your genes could be a strong predictor of whether you stray into a life of crime, according to a research paper co-written by UT Dallas criminologist Dr. J.C. Barnes.

“Examining the Genetic Underpinnings to Moffitt’s Developmental Taxonomy: A Behavior Genetic Analysis” detailed the study’s findings in a recent issue of Criminology. The paper was written with Dr. Kevin M. Beaver from Florida State University and Dr. Brian B. Boutwell at Sam Houston State University.

The study focused on whether genes are likely to cause a person to become a life-course persistent offender, which is characterized by antisocial behavior during childhood that can later progress to violent or serious criminal acts later in life.

The framework for the research was based on the developmental taxonomy of anti-social behavior, a theory derived by Dr. Terri Moffitt, who identified three groups, or pathways, found in the population: life-course persistent offenders, adolescent-limited offenders and abstainers. Moffitt suggested that environmental, biological and, perhaps, genetic factors could cause a person to fall into one of the paths.

“That was the motivation for this paper. No one had actually considered the possibility that genetic factors could be a strong predictor of which path you end up on,” said Barnes, who is an assistant professor of criminology in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at UT Dallas. “In her (Moffitt’s) theory, she seems to highlight and suggest that genetic factors will play a larger role for the life-course persistent offender pathway as compared to the adolescence-limited pathway.”

Adolescent-limited offenders exhibit behaviors such as alcohol and drug use and minor property crime during adolescence. Abstainers represent a smaller number of people who don’t engage in any deviant behavior.

Barnes and his co-researchers relied on data from 4,000 people drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to identify how people fell into each of the three groups. The researchers then compared the information using what is known as the twin methodology, a study design that analyzed to what extent genetic and environmental factors influenced a trait.

“The overarching conclusions were that genetic influences in life-course persistent offending were larger than environmental influences,” he said. “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.”

The analysis doesn’t identify the specific genes that underlie the different pathways, which Barnes said would be an interesting area for further research.

“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,” he said.

Barnes said there is no gene for criminal behavior. He said crime is a learned behavior.

“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,” he said. “It still is a genetic effect. And it’s still important.”

The link between genes and crime is a divisive issue in the criminology discipline, which has primarily focused on environmental and social factors that cause or influence deviant behavior.

“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,” Barnes said.

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  • Anonymous

    The UT Dallas study recalls an earlier widely-reported study:

    Study finds genetic link to violence, delinquency
    By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
    Jul 14, 2008

    “People with a particular variation of the MAOA gene called 2R were very prone to criminal and delinquent behavior, said sociology professor Guang Guo, who led the study.”

  • Anonymous

    This helps to explain why some races have consistently higher crime rates than others, and why the social reform and social welfare spending of the 1960s did not reduce the crime rate. Indeed, from 1960 to 1970 the crime rate doubled.        

  • Anonymous

    They manage to get through the entire article and speak only of “genetic” factors – never racial. I guess they’re talking about the greater propensity of red heads with freckles to be criminals???

    • Anonymous

      The article is more than a little vague but in all fairness it is about genetic variation and mutation which is a standalone topic aside from race. The race angle often comes in when people take this data and start researching the percentages of different racial groups that are affected by it.

      Then came a flood of follow-up research, and MAOA was relabeled the “warrior gene.” A pair of 2008 studies found that a certain type of MAOA (2-repeat allele) doubles a person’s rate of violence (without factoring child abuse into the equation).

      Three studies over the past five years hint that the especially dangerous 2-repeat allele might be more common among African Americans. In one study, 6% of nonwhite subjects had this allele. In another, five of 37 (14%) African-American men possessed these rare MAOA alleles. Those percentages are remarkable given that in both studies, fewer than one percent of white men had this gene. A third study determined that 0.5% of white MAOA genes and 4.7% of African-American MAOA genes feature this 2-repeat allele—almost a tenfold difference.

  • Anonymous

    I hope Charles Murray lives long enough to be vindicated. It would be too much for those who shouted, “Racist!” at him to apologize, but I would like for them to shut up. 

    • Anonymous

      I used to shout “Racist!” at people (literally). While I never met Charles Murray nor shouted “racist” to his face, I certainly told people he was an evil racist. I would very much like to apologize to him.

  • Anonymous

    All blacks are not criminals. Some whites are. All blacks are not stupid. Some whites are. Some blacks are brilliant. 

    • Anonymous

      Are you using incorrect grammar, or did you honestly mean to say that no blacks are criminals, and no blacks are stupid? And is that your honest opinion, or sarcasm? It’s hard to tell on the internet.

      • Anonymous

        To make it easier for you to understand I should have said that not all blacks are criminals, and that not all of them are stupid. 
        Although racial differences exist in average ability levels and behavior, and although the differences are largely genetic, there is overlap, as Jared Taylor explains here:

        • Anonymous

          In future, could people use logically correct grammar? There’s a big difference between “all people are not chickens” and “not all people are chickens”.

  • .

    Cut these researchers some slack. If they weren’t interested in the issue then they wouldn’t have written a paper on it. It’s not necessary to scream “RACE! RACE! RACE!” to make the point. All they have to do is make it acceptable to acknowledge that genetics is a major factor in criminality. The rest of the pieces will fall into place own their own.

  • Soon there will be judges that will use this argument to either spare jail  or sentence extremely lightly when it comes to black criminals.

    • Anonymous

      The implication of a genetic predisposition to engage in crime is toward more and longer prison sentences, and against efforts at rehabilitation.  Anyone with several felony convictions is someone society should give up on. 
      The only thing that reliably reduces recidivism is age.  

  • Anonymous

    I always wondered why chickens commit less crime than homo sapiens. But it turns out… crime has a large genetic component! Now, I know what you’re thinking… “but anonymous commentator, don’t chickens and humans have more than 50% the same genes? Aren’t we really all the same?” Yes, they do. And even though “crime is a learned behavior”, it now seems possible that it’s actually the small genetic differences between humans and chickens that account for at least some of the differences in the amount of crime they commit! Hard to believe, I know. Especially since chickens and humans are raised in such different environments.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    Seriously though… what these twin studies fail to mention is that the siblings they use as a baseline are going to be the same race and have much more similar genes than the whole population. If the genes between two brothers are enough to make a big difference in criminality, imagine how huge the difference in criminality would be between gene pools that evolved separately for tens of thousands of years (hundreds of thousands if you count our Neanderthal ancestors). It’s no wonder crime rates are so different between races.

  • Anonymous

    You’re mostly right, but I don’t think genetics is used to hide race differences. I think most people realise that race is (by definition) genetic. Research like this strengthens our cause in a field that is trying hard to pretend crime is learned.

  • Anonymous

    Einstein was an Ashkenazi Jew, they have IQs a standard deviation higher than white people, just like white people have IQs a standard deviation higher than black people in America. The only reason white people can compete with Jews is that white people are more numerous. Black people don’t have a chance.

    Black people did invent the super soaker though. Not as good as inventing the entire modern world like white people did, but it is a genuine invention nonetheless. That’s the only one I could find that is genuine.

  • Anonymous

    The general gist of what he’s saying is not debatable. You’re just quibling over his slightly exagerated statistics. Compared to black people, white people commit almost no crime these days.

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t execute these researchers, just give them a short stint in a reeducation camp. A genuine one though, focused on education. You’re right that they are actively covering up black criminality with their obligatory PC comments inserted into their articles. But I think you underestimate just how damaging these researchers have been to their anti-racist colleagues in the field of criminology.

  • If this gene  theory is correct why has the proven accuracy of the data presented in the Bell Curve attacked as wrong because genes do no affect IQ.  

    • Anonymous

      Genes obviously effect IQ. The Bell Curve provides plenty of evidence of this. Nevertheless, The Bell Curve violates what most liberals want to believe, so they have made it dangerous to agree with it publicly.
      Many conservatives pretend to disagree with The Bell Curve, because it implies that there is little moral significance to the distribution of wealth. 

  • Anonymous

    I am confident that genes for both crime and intelligence will be discovered in the fairly near future, and that it will be possible to predict with a fairly high degree of certainty from a tissue sample of a fetus how intelligent that fetus will become as a living person, and whether or not the person will be a criminal.  

  • Anonymous

    This is the basic argument of The Bell Curve: intelligence is of primary importance in determining success in life; it is primarily determined by heredity; individuals in some population groups tend to have more of it than individuals in other population groups.
    This has been obvious throughout history. One hardly needs to read The Bell Curve for substantiation.