More hereditary/genetic news: This research suggests three genes have been located that play a strong role in the development of violent behavioral tendencies, assuming certain environmental conditions. In other words, the researchers believe these genes help explain why some individuals who grow up in certain conditions become criminals, while others do not. One gene in particular, call MAOA, has already been implicated in antisocial behavior, and the researchers note that MAOA was “disturbingly common” in their findings. From the article:
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.
Interestingly, the variations of these genes associated with violence appear only to create a disposition towards antisocial behavior. Environmental factors must also be present in order for the violent behavior to actually manifest. A healthy environment appears to serve as an insulator to this manifestation.
I recall in graduate school that whenever anyone asked a professor about the cause of such -and-such behavior or mental health problem, the answer was invariably both nature and nurture. It seems funny how science tends to swing back and forth in terms of which cause it tends to emphasize at any given time. In fact is, human beings are so complex both factors are tremendously important. I am certainly glad to see that genetic components are increasingly being acknowledged as major factors in accounting for human behavior. We cannot discount, however, the impact of environment. For decades, scientists ignored heredity and genetics to their detriment; I hope it does not swing too far the other way.
The article also cautions that interventions resulting from this research may be a ways off. This is true, only to the extent that we can address the issue biologically. It still makes sense to continue attempting to prevent unhealthy environments for children whenever possible, as long as we recognize the limits of such an effort. In addition, having a genetic tendency towards a certain behavior is not the same thing as not being responsible for one’s behavior. Research like this should not be used to minimize the responsibility of people for one’s actions, especially with respect to adults.