The Relationship Between Genetic Heritability Of Criminal Violence In A Variety Of Individuals Essay

Charles Darwin, who was without a doubt one of the most innovative minds of mankind, spurred many influential ideologies into society. One of the greatest being, his theory of evolution, he argued that “it can hardly be disputed that social feelings are instinctive or innate in the lower animals; and why should they not be so in man?” (Baschetti, 2008). Darwin’s theories consisted broadly of many social and altruistic beliefs and he credited the heritability of both goodness and badness. Following the period after the Second World War human nature became “a revulsion towards all things genetic” and many behaviourisms started to follow the approach of “we are what we learn” (Plomin,1995). Science versus ideology has been an ongoing battle for many centuries, the same can be said in regard to crime. Many communistic ideas come from the view that violent and aggressive behaviour stems from social and environmental causes e.g. poverty, social status, unemployment, deprivation etc. Essentially stating that crime cannot originate from a place of genetics due to the unwillingness to accept antisocial behaviours as innate (Watson, 1997). In an attempt to understand the nature behind criminal behaviour, Hans Eysenck completed research on twin studies in confirming criminal behaviour as hereditary in 77% of identical twins versus 12% in fraternal twins. This research was pivotal in understanding the genetic influence on criminality and influenced momentous research in this field (Rafter, Posick & Rocque, 2016)


Lombroso was heavily influenced by the early works of Darwin who expressed his theory of criminality thus likening the biology of man to animals and their primitive state of mind throughout evolution. He argued the ‘degeneration’ of men could be seen through physiological and morphological reactions. These included a wide array of features such as, prominent jawbones, large cranial orbits, darker skin pigmentation, large protruding ears, insensitivity to pain, lack of remorse, violent tendencies and promiscuity. Lombroso also commented on the nurturing period of childhood, and wrote that if man did not overcome infantile behaviour and remained fixed in this stage of life, they would remain a ‘born delinquent’ (Lombroso, Gibson & Rafter, 2006).

Lombroso also associated atavistic behaviours with individuals who were left-handed and argued that left-handedness was seen habitually among criminals and they would “contribute to form one of the worst characters among the human species” (Kushner, 2011). These philosophies sparked much controversy during the 1900’s, and most associated them with prejudicial and flawed cultural beliefs. Ironically, years later researchers showed that left-handedness was associated with developmental learning disabilities and certain mental illness (Geschwind & Behan, 1982). Accordingly, it can be articulated that there was limited scientific reasoning behind Lombroso’s theories as they lacked sound data, sample sizes and statistical analysis (Mazzerello, 2011). Never the less, Lombroso will always be remembered for challenging the phenomenon that is biological determinism by provoking thought and confuting traditional beliefs.


Antisocial behaviours are seen to develop from a young age, occasionally through minor delinquency such as underage drinking, until it spreads into adolescence and adulthood, carrying with it deleterious criminal attitudes. Conversely, a review written by Krohn, Thornberry, Rivera and Le Blanc in 2001 showed that late onset criminals tended to engage in a short span of crime which quickly dissipated and that early onset offenders engaged in around 40 to 700% more criminal offences (Krohn et al,.2001). To further illustrate this, data collected through an ‘E-Risk’ study concerning 1,116 five-year-old twins showed that 82% of childhood delinquency and antisocial behaviours originated from genetic factors. Especially in those who suffered from childhood maltreatment as they were twelve times more likely to display antisocial problems than those who had no genetic risk factors (Jaffee et al., 2005).

The World Health Organization (2002) sought to define violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group/community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation” (Ferguson & Beaver, 2009). In 2017/2018 alone there was 250,287 criminal acts in the U. K involving violence against another person, ranging from common assault to first degree murder (Met Police UK, 2018) (Table 1). Understanding this it can be deemed that violent behaviours are pernicious to society and can lead to more arduous forms of criminal behaviour. Likewise, it is important to understand that violence can stem from other factors such as protection of family, self-defence and in more extreme cases the acceptance of various cultural and religious groups. Therefore, the act of violence can be very subjective depending on the environment, social group and consequences/rewards (Queller & Strassman, 2002; Smith, 1964).


Violence throughout history has been due to a cluster of reasons; some researchers argue this is due to the prehistoric nature of man, whilst others argue it is in response to environmental issues such as overpopulation. Human violence can be seen to be associated with food shortages and overcrowding especially among those in poverty and lower social classes. But is man’s aggressiveness really inherent? – It can be argued that those who are more affluent in society would show less violent mannerisms. However, in more affluent areas of England and Wales the crime rates more than doubled during the 1950’s to 60’s and amongst other wealthy areas (Russell & Russell, 1979). A consequential study was conducted by Russell & Russell on monkey populations. They made a direct comparison of monkeys living in the wild to monkeys living in the zoo. Both groups were given an abundant supply of food to share with other cohabiters. A fundamental observation was that the violence and quarrelsome behaviour from the Zoo monkeys was due to the lack of space and freedom to roam. A dictatorship from larger, more powerful male in the Zoo was also noticed in this study; this feature was also seen in other population study that were conducted previously. Following on from this, it can be understood that primates much like man do have the ability to behave in a pacific, benevolent manner if the surrounding conditions allow it. In accordance with this, Stanislav Andreski highlighted that when prisoners of war were being released they proceeded to draw around their bodies the outline of space they wanted (Russell & Russell, 1979) which again demonstrated the need for personal space to avoid irksome behaviours and displays of aggression. In an attempt to gain a scientific understanding behind primitive and human behaviours – a study was conducted recently which showed that the level of violence interpersonally predicted among humans was very similar to that of primates. This emphasised that lethal violence was embedded deep in the ancestry of humans (Gomez, Verdu, Gonzalez-Megias & Mendez, 2016). If the prevalence of aggression is high amongst animals, what can be predicted of humans?

Fundamentally it is understood that violence is a public health problem and continues to grow globally. The Lancet Journal, 2002 stated that changes are needed in refocusing the attention to reducing violence through behavioural, social and environmental means by means of policies, legislature and public health awareness i.e. media campaigns and reducing risk factors (Krug et al., 2002; Mercy et al., 1993). On the other end of the spectrum, it is necessary to understand where violence and aggressive behaviour comes from, how it is manifested in humans today and how does it shape and mould the youth. Violence is not a new phenomenon, with recent indication showing that the most brutal massacre took place around 10,000 years ago in Naratuk, Africa (Seemangal, 2016). Violence can serve important functions for a society and species, in which the dominant prevails and the weak are eliminated, aiding in the individuals remaining in the species to adapt to new surroundings and become superior, impertinent and faster. In animals, aggression is used between dominating males to develop a hierarchy and to intimidate other males, allowing females to only mate with the most ‘powerful’ of males (Benton & Brain, 1979; Miczek et al., 2001), whilst also competing for food sources and territory. Since World War II, in which around 50-80 million people were slaughtered, homicide rates have notably increased, with 12% higher than last year in the United Kingdom alone (Office for National Statistics, 2018). With children shooting classmates in schools (Fernandez, Fausset & Bigood, 2018), gun/knife crime increasing (Weaver, 2018) and drug busts (National Crime Agency, 2018) becoming the ‘new normal’ is this the decline of civilisation as we know it?

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