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Genetic Factors and Criminal Behavior

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 64 Issue: 2 Dated: December 2000 Pages: 24-27
Jasmine A. Tehrani M.A.; Sarnoff A. Mednick Ph.D.
Timothy P. Cadigan, Ellen Wilson Fielding
Date Published
4 pages
Genetic factors, representing an important influence in a variety of mental disorders such schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety, may play a role in predisposing certain individuals to criminal behavior.
A genetic background positive for criminal behavior or mental illness, however, does not mean an individual will develop problem behavior or a mental disorder later in life. In fact, most individuals who have a criminal biological parent do not become criminal. Nonetheless, certain individuals, due to genetic and/or environmental markers, may have an elevated risk of becoming a criminal. Two primary myths associated with genetic factors and criminal behavior are briefly discussed: (1) identifying the role of genetics in criminal behavior implies there is a crime gene; and (2) attributing crime to genetic factors is deterministic. Genetic epidemiological studies are reviewed, including twin and adoption studies, that have addressed whether there is a genetic tendency to violence and the genetic link between violence and alcoholism. The authors conclude that genetic factors represent one source of influence on criminal behavior and that additional genetic research may contribute to crime and violence prevention efforts. 13 references