Genes

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My Genes made me do it! Consider the Genetic Influences on Criminal Behaviour.

My Genes made me do it! Consider the Genetic Influences on Criminal Behaviour.

A gene is a sequence on DNA that has a specific region on the chromosome, which determines a particular characteristic in an organism. For many years it has been thought that there are specific genes responsible for certain behaviour and so there is a gene for criminal behaviour. In the first half of the twentieth century psychologists studied the heritability differences of people and had an aim to improve the gene pool within humans (Kevles, 1985; Duster, 1990 & Paul 1995). There research did not lead to much good for the human race but rather restrictive immigration policies and sterilisation laws in western countries. Also, Nazi Germany who always had an idea of ‘improving’ humanity had mass sterilisation and euthanasia within their country. Following World War two the study of genes improved compared to past years, techniques came available which could isolate and manipulate genetic material. To this day these techniques are being used to assess patterns of inheritance. Although it is not certain which genes cause criminal behaviour there are ongoing studies which may provide the answers. In recent years research has concentrated on the genetic influences on criminal behaviour, the emphasis has been moved from environmentalist approach. Environmentalists argue that that genetic explanation of criminal behaviour involves medicalization of social behaviour and diverts thoughts away from social and economic conditions (Wasserman & Wachbroit, 2001). Criminal behaviour usually involves aggression; this can be defined as actions or intentions to harm someone else. These actions however, do not have to involve physical harm. Nevertheless aggression does usually result in violence which can lead to physical contact and harm. This paper will discuss why the genetic approach has the main focus in modern research and why genes can affect behaviour. Locke (1689) believed genes have an influence on psychological characteristics. Genes do not directly affect our characteristics but rather affect our physical structures, for example our genetic make up may lead parts of the brain to have higher activity than others or produce high or low levels of neurochemicals. These differences are what allow people to obtain particular psychological characteristics. Evidence to support the genetic influence has been found in family studies. Gottesman (1978) conducted research which found that the rate of a condition in the general population is 1%, the chances of closely related individual (e.g. parent-child) developing the condition is 40% if both parents have the condition. This study provides evidence that if a person has a genetic relationship with another then there will be a greater chance of developing the disorder. Slater (1971) found the same results in family studies and Tsuang (1990) found ‘a first degree relative has a 5-20 times higher risk of developing it than those with no such relatives’. Moreover Gottesman and Shields (1972) study gives further evidence; they found that there is a concordance rate of 42% in monozygotic twins compared to 9% in dizygotic twins in inheriting a condition. Many people would argue that this evidence is not plausible due to the fact that many people of the same family share the same environment and therefore similar experiences. To overcome this argument adoption studies can be conducted. Heston (1966) compared 47 children of schizophrenic mothers who had been adopted with a control group of 50 children who were raised in the same homes. It was found that 16.6% of the adopted children devolved schizophrenia and none of the control group did. Again this evidence provides an argument that traits are inherited and these characteristics are not learnt through experiences as Locke (1690) says but are rather passed...
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