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Nature & Nurture are the two factors which are understood to shape the personality and general attitudes of a human being. Nature being the genetic component and includes hereditary genes which can be traced back generations and the behavior of those descendants examined to look for commonality in criminal behavior or philanthropy. Nurture is the external component or the basic environment in which a person is raised. To draw a conclusion about a person’s environment their upbringing must be examined as well as other societal factors like a peer group and education. A myriad of studies have been conducted in order to determine which factor, nature or nurture, has the more dominant influence on a person’s eventual development with a number of them examining which influences criminal behavior in particular. With young children being the focal point of many of the studies, many of them discovered a correlation between the mistreatment of children and criminal behavior in those children as adults. (Gordon & Greene, 2018) However, naming a single factor as more influential than the other is a precarious position. A combination of environmental and biological factors now seem to determine the likelihood of criminal behavior in youth with environment having a greater impact.
Genetics has been an area of important study when it comes to criminal behavior. Researchers were convinced of a link when it was discovered that the children of criminals were far more likely to engage if criminal behavior than children whose parents were not criminals. (Gordon & Greene, 2018) As study in the area was furthered due to the discovery of this major heritability, a number of genes were discovered that could possibly explain the biological component of criminal behavior in people including the dopamine DRD4 receptor gene. (DiLalla, Bersted, & John, 2015) A second heavily examined biological component is the low amount of MAOA enzyme that is responsible for the regulation of metabolism of serotonin. (Levitt, 2013) The MAOA factor is of note as it has been used in an American legal case in which a legal defense team used a convicted murderer’s lack of MAOA function to argue the defendant was predisposed to depraved criminal indifference. (Levitt, 2013) Importantly, the defense team found a history of criminal behavior going back four generations and attempted to use that fact along with the defendants low level of MAOA function to commute a death sentence to life in prison. The defense was rejected and the man was executed in 2005. (Levitt, 2013)
Despite a strong case for the biological element in criminality, the environmental component should not and cannot be ignored. There is a volume of evidence from a number of studies which indicate that young children exposed to violence and abuse are more likely to engage and remain in a criminal lifestyle as adults with the likelihood of future criminal behavior increasing with a greater amount of exposure to aforementioned violence and abuse. (Gordon & Green, 2016) Other significant factors include physical locations such as school and neighborhood. Research has revealed that negative or nonexistent attachments to a person’s family, school, and neighborhood leads to a noticeable increase in criminal behavior. (Liu, Li, & Guo, 2015) An additional risk is peer victimization. Studies have shown that peer victimization leads to significant hostility, aggressive behavior, and rebellious attitudes. (DiLalla et al. 2015)
There is now compelling evidence that both environmental and biological factors contribute heavily to a human beings development including the risk of criminal behavior. The question becomes how closely intertwined the two are and if one is a greater factor than the other. A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill makes a claim that, while environmental and biological factors both contribute to delinquency in youth, genetic factors are only a part of the equation and not the determining factor and their surrounding environment largely determines the effect of said genetic factors. (Liu et al., 2015) The study sought to draw a correlation between delinquent behavior and genetic markers identified as aggression related genes. (Liu et al., 2015) The participants surveyed were American adolescents in junior high and high school across the country and the study was done in three waves. The first wave was from 1994 to 1995, the second wave in 1996, and the third and final wave from 2001 to 2002 with a total of 5,740 taking part with people of European, African, and Asian ancestry making up the demographic. (Liu et a.l, 2015) Other contributing factors included the number and education level of parents and the region in which they resided. (Liu et al., 2015) During the third wave, genetic samples were collected from full siblings and twins and the suspect genetic markers identified. Questionnaires were given at each wave gauging each individuals attachment to their families, school, and communities as well as any troublesome behavior they may have engaged in such as violence, drugs, drinking, and theft. (Liu et al., 2015)
The findings of the UNC Chapel Hill study showed evidence that those with the identified genetic markers were at greater risk of falling into violent and other delinquent behavior when they felt little to no attachment to the three main societal factors of family, school, and community. (Liu et al., 2015) In contrast, individuals with a strong level of attachment to family, school, and their communities were at less of a genetic risk even taking into account potentially mitigating factors such as neighborhoods with poor income levels and high unemployment. (Liu et al., 2015)
The argument of “Nature & Nurture” has been debated since the mid 20th century and neither has been decidedly proven to be more influential than the other. The argument is multi-layered as one would expect a debate surrounding complex human emotions to be. Researchers are split on which is more dominant although most would agree that a combination of the two shapes us into the people we become. (Hegger, 2015) There are other hypotheses such as the argument that our genes do not direct us to be more violent but that those genes make it difficult for the person to avoid violence. (Levitt, 2013) The UNC Chapel Hill study provided evidence that both environmental and biological factors were important in determining the course of young adults in the United States. According to them, strong societal influence and a support system consisting of parents, teachers, and the community were enough to mitigate genes they identified as contributing to aggression. (Liu et al., 2015) Although the study sounds convincing, the small sample size but be noted as well as the fact this included only American youth. Other countries may find similar studies have different results if the country has a less diverse population or the country or even political circumstances can be a factor. Further research is required to find a definitive answer although the guarantee of a definitive answer does not exist.
- DiLalla, L., Bersted, K., & John, S. (2015). Peer Victimization and DRD4 Genotype Influence Problem Behaviors in Young Children. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 44(8), 1478. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.gwclib.nocccd.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=103686948&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Gordon, N., & Greene, E. (2018). Nature, nurture, and capital punishment: How evidence of a genetic-environment interaction, future dangerousness, and deliberation affect sentencing decisions. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 36(1), 65–83. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.2306
- Hegger, J. (2015). Nature Vs Nurture: Which Causes Crime? Retrieved from https://www.correctionsone.com/probation-and-parole/articles/8685697-Nature-vs-nurture-Which-causes-crime/
- Levitt, M. (2013). Genes, environment and responsibility for violent behavior: “Whatever genes one has it is preferable that you are prevented from going around stabbing people.” New Genetics & Society, 32(1), 4–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/14636778.2012.699352
- Liu, H., Li, Y., & Guo, G. (2015). Gene by Social-Environment Interaction for Youth Delinquency and Violence: Thirty-Nine Aggression-Related Genes. Social Forces, 93(3), 881–903. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sou086
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