What Makes Someone a Criminal?

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File:DNA Repair.jpgEarlier today, Psych Central posted an interesting article entitled “Digging into Biological, Environmental Roots of Antisocial Behavior”. It describes some of Dr. Brian Boutwell’s research that looks at, not only environmental and biological factors, but also genetic causes leading to anti-social and criminal behavior.

Dr. Boutwell is a Criminologist and an Assistant Professor at Sam Houston State University. He completed a Bachelor in Criminology and Psychology, followed by a Masters and PhD in Criminology. While not teaching, he devotes his time to biosocial research: “Biosocial research is a multi-disciplinary way of studying antisocial behavior. It involves aspects of behavioral genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and developmental psychology,” explains Dr. Boutwell.

In one study, he and his colleagues found that generally those who had a genetic predisposition and were subject to corporal punishment (i.e. spanking) went on to adopt antisocial and in some cases criminal behavior, while those who did not have that genetic predisposition did not. These findings were more prevalent in male subjects.

In Science Daily’s “Genes Influence Criminal Behavior, Research Suggests” (January 25, 2012), the article also describes Dr. Boutwell’s research and the genetic correlation between antisocial behavior in childhood which can manifest itself as violent or criminal in the future. The piece outlines Dr. Boutwell’s collaboration with Dr. Kevin M. Beaver (Florida State University) and Criminologist Dr. J. C. Barnes. The three investigated the genetic connections to Dr.Terrie Moffit’s developmental theory of crime. Her theory discusses an individuals takes one of three pathways: persistent or long term offenders, adolescent limited offenders or non-offenders.

Boutwell, Beaver and Barnes’ findings, based on 4,000 subjects, suggested that long term offenders were more influenced by their genes than their environment. “The overarching conclusions were that genetic influences in life-course persistent offenders were larger than environmental influences. For abstainers, it was roughly an equal split: genetic factors played a large role and so too did the environment. For adolescent-limited offenders, the environment appeared to be most important,” stated Dr. Barnes in Science Daily.

Where traditionally environmental factors leading to a criminal lifestyle has been researched, the role of genetic factors is a relatively new field of study. If you are interested in how the environment, biology and DNA all play a role in criminal causes and effects, a career as criminologist may be your calling. Consider completing a forensic psychology degree or a criminology degree to start this incredibly fascinating and integral career.

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