They’re Born Bad

Back in June, 2009, scientists discovered the “gangsta gene,” now known as the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene. People with a particular form of MAOA gene are twice as likely to join a gang or engage in other violent criminal behavior, compared to those with other forms of the gene.

The MAOA gene is located on the X chromosome, and the enzyme it produces breaks down important neurotransmitters such as: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. This renders them inactive. These neurotransmitters control mood, aggression, and pleasure.

Scientific research into the causation of self destructive and/or violently antisocial behavior is worthwhile. It had in the past been assumed that people turned to drugs, gangs, violence, and general thuggery solely due to environmental factors. Discovering that some of the thugs were just “born bad,” or at least with a genetic predilection for bad behavior is extremely useful data; it allows society to level set its expectations.

A lot of Liberals in America won’t like these findings or this post. Oddly and hypocritically, they’re the same one lauding any study that says homosexuality is genetically caused.

Of course some people who look to provide and/or invent excuses for thuggishness and criminal behavior have misused these findings. Recently an Italian court reduced the sentence of a convicted murderer because he had this genetic deficiency.

Abdelmalek Bayout, an Algerian citizen who has lived in Italy since 1993, admitted in 2007 to stabbing and killing Walter Felipe Novoa Perez on 10 March. Perez, a Colombian living in Italy, had, according to Bayout’s testimony, insulted him over the kohl eye make-up the Algerian was wearing. Bayout, a Muslim, claims he wore the make-up for religious reasons.

During the trial, Bayout’s lawyer, Tania Cattarossi, asked the court to take into account that her client may have been mentally ill at the time of the murder. After considering three psychiatric reports, the judge, Paolo Alessio Vern์, partially agreed that Bayout’s psychiatric illness was a mitigating factor and sentenced him to 9 years and 2 months in prison — around three years less than Bayout would have received had he been deemed to be of sound mind.

But at an appeal hearing in May this year, Pier Valerio Reinotti, a judge of the Court of Appeal in Trieste, asked forensic scientists for a new independent psychiatric report to decide whether he should commute the sentence further.

For the new report, Pietro Pietrini, a molecular neuroscientist at Italy’s University of Pisa, and Giuseppe Sartori, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Padova, conducted a series of tests and found abnormalities in brain-imaging scans and in five genes that have been linked to violent behaviour — including the gene encoding the neurotransmitter-metabolizing enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA). A 2002 study led by Terrie Moffitt, a geneticist at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, had found low levels of MAOA expression to be associated with aggressiveness and criminal conduct of young boys raised in abusive environments.

In the report, Pietrini and Sartori concluded that Bayout’s genes would make him more prone to behaving violently if provoked. “There’s increasing evidence that some genes together with a particular environmental insult may predispose people to certain behaviour,” says Pietrini.

On the basis of the genetic tests, Judge Reinotti docked a further year off the defendant’s sentence, arguing that the defendant’s genes “would make him particularly aggressive in stressful situations”. Giving his verdict, Reinotti said he had found the MAOA evidence particularly compelling.

Thankfully, this foolishness was perpetrated by an Italian court, not an American one so the wrong-headed precedent that it sets won’t immediately have an adverse effect upon the American court system. Sadly though, it’s only a matter of time before some Liberal judge in America reaches the same dangerous conclusion, most likely somewhere on the Left Coast. ๐Ÿ™

If these people are genetically deficient in such a way that they are far more prone to violent antisocial behavior, then releasing them back into society sooner is just wrong. It’s obvious to anyone with a brain that they’d be extremely prone to recidivism. Instead of using their mutation as an excuse for them, it should be grounds for lengthier incarceration and behavioral therapy.

Related Reading:

Crimes Against a Book Club
The Tools of Argument: How the Best Lawyers Think, Argue, and Win
Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
The Science of Interstellar

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18 Responses to “They’re Born Bad”

  1. zhann Says:

    I’m confused, you accept that violence is genetic, but you disagree that homosexuality is genetic? Or did I misunderstand something?

    As for prison sentences, I kind of agree, but I would take it one step further … these people should not be allowed to reproduce. I am a staunch advocate of capital punishment, and this is (assuming you are correct) a sound case for castration. Why propagate this gene down the genetic line?

    I guess this is an entirely different discussion altogether, but people that can’t control their violent behavior should not be drugged and released into society. You are simply making the assumption that these people will continue to take their meds, where sound logic will tell you that it is only a matter of time before they stop and the violence returns.

  2. jonolan Says:

    You misunderstood what I meant. My complaint was that many people would rant about such findings involving violent criminal behavior but support similar, though less well-founded, findings about homosexuality.

    “They were born that way” only seems to be acceptable to some people when it’s being used to defend their actions.

    I’m unsure of what to do with these mutants. The studies show a strong predilection towards violent behaviors but only a predilection. They could, in theory, control themselves if they tried. I also don;t know if the mutation is hereditary or a result of pathogens in utero. ๐Ÿ™

  3. Kelly Mahan Jaramillo Says:

    It is a fascinating study – I have followed the scientific theories and findings of the serial killers brain, and the disagreements vary wildly. The big question mark for many scientists on serial killers, as opposed to random violence, is that 90% were male, and of that, 73% were white. That is pretty much all the scientists seem to agree on concerning the serial killer brain chemistry.

    I do lean towards scientific fact finding in the brain and its functions as more grounded, whether one is talking homosexuality or violence, than a legal, medical, or religious take on the subject.

    Years ago, I read a fascinating book called “Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the roots of violence” by Robin Karr-Morse. It was fascinating in the standpoint of findings that children who are “exposed” to violence (abusive person in household, hitting, raging, breaking things) in utero, had a higher rate of violent behavior as teenagers than a pregnancy in a calm household.

    Another perspective on your possible hereditary or pathogens in utero thought.

    I very much agree that if violence were a proven brain mutation, leniency is not the answer, and I have to say, I think zhann makes a good point, as harsh as it may seem – procreation is off the table, at least until a “cure” was discovered. But, that is getting into a pretty dicy area concerning choice, isn’t it?
    I suppose we cross our fingers and hope that it does not make it to the American court system, where some fringe right wing judge who scoffs at Behavioral Therapy or any kind of therapy, simply uses it to up his quota of Death Penalty rulings, while his running platform is “tough on crime”.
    Probably somewhere in Texas. ๐Ÿ™

  4. jonolan Says:

    Kelly,

    I’ve read Karr-Morse’s and Wiley’s Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence and it was interesting, though I didn’t completely agree with some of her conclusions and inferences, especially the idea that it is nearly impossible for the children to develop “normally” in spite of their childhood trauma.

    Such studies, however, are why I’m unsure that the MAOA mutation resulting in violent tendencies is hereditary. Ghosts from the Nursery makes a strong case for such things being a result of stress hormones being released by the gestating mother.

    Think about it; we’re biologically still largely a primitive primate who is prey for larger predators. In stress situations a population group could benefit existentially from its young being born more aggressive…

  5. Karita Says:

    The moment you say that these people annot reproduce you open it all up so that anybody with a mental illness may not be allowed to reproduce. What then? People with learning disabilities? Low IQ’s? A genetic predisposition to obesity? Cancer?

  6. jonolan Says:

    Karita’s got you there, zhann and Kelly, and she summed up my fears over that course of action as well.

  7. Paradigm Says:

    As far as psychopaths go they are being incarcerated for longer periods of time at least in Canada and here in Sweden, probably in the US too.

    But gang members and psychopaths may be different genetically. Usually a psychopath is a loner who moves around and has superficial acquaintances. A gang member is part of an organization. He’s often with the same people and in one location for years. And the psychopath is very often white.

  8. thekillerj Says:

    Paradigm, most gang bangers are psychopaths. They are diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (psychopath) due to their criminal behavior and lack of remorse/empathy.

  9. Paradigm Says:

    The killer: Anti-social personality disorder (ASPD) is a broad category that covers most hardened criminals. The majority who gets this diagnosis do not meet the criteria of psychopathy according to the Psychopathy Checklist. As I described in my comment the behavior of these groups differ in many ways, the ASPDs being much closer to normalcy than the psychopaths.

  10. Kelly Mahan Jaramillo Says:

    Jonolan,

    I am a few days late on responding – I find your take on more aggressive children being born due to stress hormones interesting from a primal/survival standpoint, however, that is more a discussion of the primal instinct in all creatures, and strays from the social problem of random violence within society.

    And yes, Karita is dead right – my response to zhann’s suggestion is purely knee jerk emotional reaction when senseless killings are running rampant in society.
    That is why I added that it was a “solution” that was getting into a very dicey area of choice – Karita very succinctly finished that thought. No argument there.

    At this point, what society has available to deal with this problem and NOT go down the slippery and ultimately horrifying “castration road” if you will, is incarceration and rehabilitation. The prisons are overflowing and I do not have the numbers to support whether rehabilitation is successful in any percentage at all.
    Still, it is an interesting study, and bears keeping an eye on.

    Finally, I guess one would have to shrug and say WWDD:
    What Would Dexter Do? ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. jonolan Says:

    Kelly,

    I’m not sure how much my hypothesis that the MAOA mutation could be a result of gestational hormonal effects strays from the point of the conversation since the conversation seemed centered on eugenics.

    If the mutation is caused by stress hormones in the mother, then the idea of sterilization of the people with the mutation would be worthless as well as a disturbing thing to contemplate – for all the reasons that Karita brought up.

    I see the whole study as useful mostly for level-setting our expectations. If these thugs are born that way, then we have to expect less of them, and they’re going to have to expect to b treated differently.

    It is most definitely not a reason for leniency though, despite the foolishness of the Italian court.

  12. J.D.F Says:

    I do not find your post offensive in the least. ๐Ÿ™‚ And I agree with your last conclusion. This reminds me of that silly movie with Tom Cruise and the crime police where they arrested people based on what they were going to do…

    Whatever information we have… whatever discoveries we make… we should always ask not if we can do something but if we should.

    Oh and with regards to the comment about Liberal Judges… Judges who are of either extreme and do not view the law with neutrality (or as much as is humanly possible) should not be on the bench.

    Have a good day Jonolan. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Kelly Mahan Jaramillo Says:

    Jonolan –
    Yes, I think I might have been the one straying in the conversation from genetics to society’s handling of what might, in the future, be regarded as mutants. I did not mean to write what came off as you doing the straying – it was definitely me, wandering a-field. ๐Ÿ™‚

    In your response above:

    “Think about it; we’re biologically still largely a primitive primate who is prey for larger predators. In stress situations a population group could benefit existentially from its young being born more aggressive…”

    You seem to be leaning both ways concerning the issue – you say that we should lower the bar on what we expect of these individuals, and yet above, you seem to say that a population group could benefit.

    Which, if you look way back to when we were all living in tribes, these “thugs”, should they have possessed this genetic mutation, would be the leaders of the tribe, not staying put as sitting ducks for the larger predator, but moving the group along and getting things done in an aggressive manner for the sake of the tribe.

    So genetically, the “thugs” actually might possess a superior genetic mutation that just happens to not have any place in todays society.

    And yes, the Italian Court ruling was complete lunacy.

  14. jonolan Says:

    J.D.F.,

    Well I did say that only some liberals would be offended…

    Can and should are two different things, and I agree that the question of the latter is too often disregarded. They say that knowledge is power, but power is, in and of itself, amoral. That can lead to a variety of atrocities.

    I admit though that I’m less uncomfortable with Conservative judges. Erroring on the side of keeping criminals away from society just doesn’t bother me as much as letting them loose.

    Kelly,

    At a species survival level such mutations might be a benefit at times. That’s what I meant. That doesn’t mean that the same mutation works well in more civilized circumstances.

  15. Kelly Mahan Jaramillo Says:

    jonolan,
    We definitely agree on that last point, all in all we pretty much agree on this post, although I would have liked to see a picture of Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold included in the group.

    I tend towards a preference of a more Conservative judge when it comes to violent crimes, it is the hard core death penalty judges that worry me, what with DNA testing available now to help prove innocence or guilt.

    Many innocent people have fried under the hardcore death penalty judges, who often still refuse to look at new DNA evidence in death penalty appeals.

    Other than that issue, I agree, I do not wish for any kind of soft punishment for anyone who has committed a heinous crime, and I would be the first in line to NOT cast a vote for a judge who’s record indicated that hard-core criminals were out on the street in something ridiculous like 2-5 years.

    As a matter of fact, T. and I just voted for a solid, Republican local judge who’s record on criminal sentences was much more to our liking than the Democratic judge who was just too lenient.

    I also agree with both J.D.F and you on the matter of “can” and “should”. Knowledge is power, and in the wrong hands….shudder

  16. Branden Bleeker Says:

    McVeigh was a insane individual that has gotten way more attention than he ever should have other than as a case study of someone who was criminally insane.

  17. learnmore Says:

    you an amatuer, you’ve looked at that study and watered down while still trying to sound intellectual n what not. Learn a bit more about behavioural genetics before posting. Oh yeh and throw a picture in of a caucasian for good measure (I am caucasian).

  18. jonolan Says:

    Given what passes for modern education and communication, I suppose we should leave your grammar, or the lack of it, aside. That’s a little difficult though, considering you’ve shown the temerity to attack my own intellectual abilities.

    Let’s analyze your comment.

    “you an amatuer” – Yes, I don’t make my living by behavioral genetics, a field of study with little facts at its disposal and fewer worthy conclusions.

    “you’ve looked at that study and watered down while still trying to sound intellectual n what not” – Actually, I’ve read several related studies on how gene expression could possible effect behavior and had similar postulates that they were working from. I did “water down” the post because its next to useless to start talking in-depth about genetic mutations and the differences between different numbers of repeats in genes on a blog that isn’t meant for the scientific community.

    As for the rest – Nice, almost subtle dog-whistle for “Racist!” You lost points though when you needlessly identified yourself as Caucasian, since that showed your own bigotry and expectations.

    Have fun in Oz and don’t hurry back until you’ve learned a bit more. This blog isn’t really suitable for children of any age.

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