Somewhat to my surprise on the present occasion I note that a libertarian writer seems very hostile to the study too. But libertarians often do seem to have little role for genetics in their thinking. The main hole in this libertarian writer's thinking is that he seems unable to accept that genes and environment usually have to interact to produce a given result. That he has difficulty with what is a universally accepted idea among geneticists just suggests to my mind that his hostility has overcome his reason.
Nonetheless there are real criticisms that could be made of the study. Looking at Table 2 in the original research report, it would appear that there were only 11 boys in the MAOA2R group and it was only that group which had strikingly high rates of delinquency. That is a pretty slender sample size upon which to base any generalizations. Taken in conjunction with previous research (which the authors cite) the conclusions of the study are, however, reasonable. It is rare for a single study to be decisive by itself
Three genes may play a strong role in determining why some young men raised in rough neighborhoods or deprived families become violent criminals, while others do not, U.S. researchers reported on Monday. One gene called MAOA that played an especially strong role has been shown in other studies to affect antisocial behavior -- and it was disturbingly common, the team at the University of North Carolina reported.
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. "I don't want to say it is a crime gene, but 1 percent of people have it and scored very high in violence and delinquency," Guo said in a telephone interview.
His team, which studied only boys, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a U.S. nationally representative sample of about 20,000 adolescents in grades 7 to 12. The young men in the study are interviewed in person regularly, and some give blood samples.
Guo's team constructed a "serious delinquency scale" based on some of the questions the youngsters answered. "Nonviolent delinquency includes stealing amounts larger or smaller than $50, breaking and entering, and selling drugs," they wrote in the August issue of the American Sociological Review. "Violent delinquency includes serious physical fighting that resulted in injuries needing medical treatment, use of weapons to get something from someone, involvement in physical fighting between groups, shooting or stabbing someone, deliberately damaging property, and pulling a knife or gun on someone."
GENES PLUS ENVIRONMENT
They found specific variations in three genes -- the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene, the dopamine transporter 1 (DAT1) gene and the dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) gene -- were associated with bad behavior, but only when the boys suffered some other stress, such as family issues, low popularity and failing school.
MAOA regulates several message-carrying chemicals called neurotransmitters that are important in aggression, emotion and cognition such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
The links were very specific. The effect of repeating a grade depended on whether a boy had a certain mutation in MAOA called a 2 repeat, they found. And a certain mutation in DRD2 seemed to set off a young man if he did not have regular meals with his family. "But if people with the same gene have a parent who has regular meals with them, then the risk is gone," Guo said. "Having a family meal is probably a proxy for parental involvement," he added. "It suggests that parenting is very important." He said vulnerable children might benefit from having surrogates of some sort if their parents are unavailable.
"These results, which are among the first that link molecular genetic variants to delinquency, significantly expand our understanding of delinquent and violent behavior, and they highlight the need to simultaneously consider their social and genetic origins," the researchers said.
Guo said it was far too early to explore whether drugs might be developed to protect a young man. He also was unsure if criminals might use a "genetic defense" in court. "In some courts (the judge might) think they maybe will commit the same crime again and again, and this would make the court less willing to let them out," he said.
Source. Another account of the study here
Reference: Guo, G.; Roettger, M.E.; & Cai, T. (2008) "The Integration of Genetic Propensities into Social-Control Models of Delinquency and Violence among Male Youths" American Sociological Review, Vol. 73, No. 4. (August), pp. 543-568.
My conclusion? Among whites, the percentage of people who are criminal enough to go to prison is quite small. Figures between 2% and 5% are usually quoted. So a genetic feature which predisposes to criminality might also be expected to be relatively rare -- as the MAOA2R combination is. Nobody is however saying that criminality is all due to one gene or set of genes or due to one cause or set of causes. Low average IQ is another striking feature of criminals and that alone is known to be polygenetic in origin.
Posted by John Ray.
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