Genetic Factors of Criminal Behavior

In regards to genetic factors being linked to criminal behavior, it brings forth the strong argument of nature vs. nurture. This has been an ongoing debate for several decades. In regards to the popular TV drama on NBC called “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” the series gets a lot of material when coming upon the many possibilities from that debate. On one end of the spectrum, one could say that it is a product of nature through genetics. On the other end of the spectrum, one could say this is a product of nurture due to situations, surroundings, and people. There are many factors to consider when presenting both sides of the argument.

Doctor Gail S. Anderson wrote a book called “Biological Influences on Criminal Behavior” that addresses the issue of genetic factors being linked to the criminal behavior of perpetrators and potential would-be perpetrators. However, according to Anderson, it is suggested that biology can play a role but does not play a major or significant role in criminal behavior. The book explains that all the factors of the situation have to be assessed. In this respect, it is on a case by case basis, for the most part.

A brief explanation by the University of Delaware dismisses the idea of an “aggression gene,” which could cause someone to be predisposed to commit such a crime. However, not all crimes are, in fact, “aggressive.”

According to a Wikipedia entry on criminology, criminologist Lonnie Athens rejects and dismisses the notion of genetic inheritance.

They all sum up that it is a combination of social and biological factors put together. In regard to genetics being linked to criminal behavior, there is one exception that strengthens the argument in favor of nature. According to a paper by Caitlin M. Jones at the Rochester Institute of Technology, there is a lot of evidence to support the evidence that the current legal system creates a new home for those who have all sorts of psychological problems. But, Jones’ paper suggests that it is dangerous to use that argument to strengthen the argument in favor of nature. This would automatically brand everybody with a psychological problem as a criminal.

Genetic factors being linked to crime, aside from potential psychological problems, can be anybody’s guess. The study and research is still ongoing. At least fifteen to twenty years can pass and the study could still be ongoing.

Also, the paper by Jones states that what is considered criminal behavior is defined by the law. The law differs from one city to another, one state to another, one county to another, and one country to another.

In short, the genetic factor of criminal behavior is still vague. Remember, what is considered criminal behavior can be subjective from one person to another. There is no universal set of laws that defines what is considered to be genetic behavior.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, due to the content, has some great examples. During season three, there was an episode called “Inheritance.” This episode revolved around a string of serial rapes that targeted mainly Asian women. The rapist, portrayed by Marcus Chong, was a product of rape. The rapist’s defense attorney presented the argument that Chong was genetically predisposed to be a rapist.

But, genetics did not seem to be the case. The rapist’s mother secretly hated him because he was a constant reminder of what had happened to her.

Also, Detective Olivia Benson (one of the principal characters,) was a product of rape, but she did not turn to a life of crime. The upbringings of Benson and the rapist were completely different. Their influences were different, as well. Eventually, it was revealed that Benson’s father had mental issues. Benson did not inherit the mental problems from her father. Later in the series, it was revealed that Benson had a half-brother who was an accused rapist. The argument of nature was used by the perpetrator of a murder as a means to pin the crime on the brother.

Detective Odafin Tutuola, another principal character, had a “nephew” (portrayed by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) who committed some heinous crimes. In a sense, that could have been nature. It was revealed that the nephew was the product of incest and that the mother was raped by her own father. But, that does not necessarily mean that there are potential genetic factors. The nephew’s upbringing was different in that regard, as he had not had any love as a child.

One could make a comparison to the 2008 case in Austria involving Josef Fritzl, who had imprisoned and raped his daughter for over twenty years. There were children via incest that were born, but that does not necessarily mean that they are predisposed to criminal behavior.

Mainly, the genetic factors of criminal behavior are psychological, but environment and social situations would play a bigger role. Using Law and Order: SVU as another example, it was revealed that Detective Elliot Stabler’s oldest daughter has bipolar disorder inherited from her grandmother. If left unchecked and untreated, that would be a genetic factor leading to criminal behavior.

A more recent example of a genetic factor would be fetal alcohol syndrome. One notable prognosis would be the lack of self-control. In this respect, that would be a biological factor in the human brain that is linked with criminal behavior. One notable incident took place in Shelbyville, Tennessee. A couple adopted a young boy from Russia. According to the couple, the boy had plenty of mental problems.

These examples should strengthen the argument in favor of nature. At the same time, the factors also strengthen the argument of nurture. One could still be capable of criminal behavior and not have some sort of psychological problem. Also, one has to take account that not all crimes are aggressive. There are plenty of non-aggressive crimes, such as “white collar crimes,” for example.

Overall, the genetic factors of criminal behavior are primarily psychological which can happen internally or externally. But that alone does not determine if one is going to engage in criminal behavior. There are social and environmental factors that have to be taken into consideration, as well.