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Criminality and Genetics: Article Summary

Uploaded by erobinson on Apr 30, 2004

Article Summary – “Criminal Genes”


As we all know, genes control much of who we are, but the can they make us criminals? Scientists now believe that there is one gene that is at least partially responsible for criminal behavior. The gene that controls the production of monoamine oxidase A (MAO A) is the enzyme that breaks down excess amounts of certain neurotransmitters. Production of MAO A may be what causes, in part, a higher potential for criminal behavior.

In 1972, a study was conducted in New Zealand of 442 subjects. Some of which had history of abuse or criminal tendencies. Researchers found that only 12% of the subjects had low MAO A levels and that 12% represented “half of their generation’s convictions for violent crimes in New Zealand.”

The National Center for Scientific Research in France did an experiment with mice. They turned off the gene which controlled MAO A encoding. “The animals exhibited fearless, impulsive behavior.” The mice had the neurotransmitter serotonin levels nine times above normal.

In 1993, Harm G. Brunner found in a study of a family of Dutch criminals that they all had a defect in the gene that controls MAO A. This further explains why many criminals have high levels of serotonin.

Just having low levels of MAO A does not automatically make someone a criminal. There are plenty of people that have normal lives with low levels of MAO A. The trigger it seems is abuse during childhood. However, abuse does not necessarily mean there will be low levels of MAO A. The combination leads to a very likely chance of criminal tendencies. Scientists speculate that high levels of MAO A may give a higher tolerance for abuse during childhood. “The genotype of high MAO A activity may promote trauma resistance,” says Terrie Moffet, a psychologist who worked on a University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Relevancy to Biology Class

Although we are not yet to the chapters that cover genetics, we will be covering those chapters shortly I presume. Also, I already have taken the advanced biology course my freshmen year which included a lot of study of genetics.

Once we reach the chapter on genetics, which I have skimmed over, we will definitely be covering topics on how the MAO A genotype can affect criminal behavior, most likely along with why it, by itself, does not necessarily make one have criminal tendencies.

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Uploaded by:   erobinson

Date:   04/30/2004

Category:   Biology

Length:   2 pages (475 words)

Views:   11045

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