Discussion: Is Being A Criminal In Your Genetics?

In light of recent events – most notably the instance of the Florida school shooting – I want to turn my attention to a largely controversial and endlessly talked about topic. What makes a criminal into a criminal? Is it plausible that some of us may be born with certain DNA that would, in turn, make us more likely to commit criminal acts, or is it the environmental factors that make all the difference? We won’t truly ever know. 

There’s been a lot of lengthy discussions regarding whether or not individuals are more likely to commit criminal actions depending on the components that form their genetic make-up. This is, without a doubt, an incredibly controversial debate and there’s no clear right or wrong answer because there’s no solid evidence to point to one specific cause of crime. However, with the numerous technological advancements throughout science research, more information has definitely come to light which, in turn, means that more people are forming their own subjective opinions on the matter. 

When I was completing my diploma for Creative Media Production, one of the [entirely too long] essays that I had to write was revolved around the effects of violence in films and whether it can cause members of the audience to become more violent themselves. Admittedly, this was one of the most interesting subjects I had the opportunity to write an essay on due to the fact that there are so many different perspectives, studies, and arguments to take into account. I conducted a range of in-detail research to gather as much information as I could so that I would be able to formulate my own solid opinion but also be able to argue the opinion of those who disagree with my own. The subject in itself was very much posing the question as to whether crimes and criminal intent are more of a result of nature or nurture – a term we’re all very familiar with when considering action and consequence. 

Everybody knows that the media industry – whether you be pinpointing the film industry or lifestyle magazines – can be influential in many damaging ways, so to question whether extremely violent content could have an effect on a viewer is rather a no-brainer. Anybody can take ‘A Clockwork Orange’ as an example and point to all the copycat crimes that it is known to have inspired and say that’s undeniable evidence. It’s evidence that content can have an influence on an audience, yes, but it’s not linear evidence that criminals are directly influenced by the content that they’re exposed to and experience. That would mean that everybody who watches violent films or plays violent video games is going to end up carrying out similar actions in their own personal lives, and, by looking at the size of these audiences, that’s just not the case. There may be a few poisoned apples, but that doesn’t mean every single viewer or player is going to do the same thing. But then, as an opposition, you can’t fully state that nurture and the exposition of violent content has no effect what so ever on any audience members because the case in point is that these copycat crimes do exist for one reason or another. So, as you can see, there’s quite a lot to consider and it can get quite confusing if you think about it too much. 

In my own personal opinion, and this is what I focused my essay on, it largely depends on the individual themselves, but not necessarily their genetic make-up. It’s a very complex thing to consider, especially when there’s no definitive research or proof that allows us to handle the issue better, but I think it’s rather obvious that many factors go into making a criminal, you cannot just specify whether nature or nurture is the determining cause. 

There have been studies carried out in regards to researching an ‘aggression gene’ which is meant to cause individuals to be more likely to act violently and turn to criminal acts. However, even with these types of research, there are no solid conclusions to be made. Even if there are criminals who hold this ‘aggression gene’, there are also going to be completely innocent people who have no criminal record with the same genetic makeup. There’s no one defining factor, and that’s possibly what makes criminology and criminal acts so interesting but so confusing to consider. 

Environmental components matter just as much, if not more, when it comes to this topic of discussion because, even if the case of a crime lies in our genetic make-up, the environments that are exposed to and have access to do indeed influence us in one way or another. 

For example, if you take two people with the ‘aggression gene’ and put one in an environment full of violence, guns, and crime, whilst you put the other in a sterile environment without access to weapons, which one is more likely to act upon their ‘aggression gene’? If you raised those two people in environments based on different morality and ethics – one believing ‘an eye for an eye’ and the other believing ‘thou shalt not harm’ – they’re not going to have the same way of looking at the world and looking at the communities around them. Therefore, even if there is such a thing as an ‘aggression gene’, which is something that we won’t be able to determine for decades yet to come, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every individual with the gene is doomed to a life of criminal intent. There’s a lot more to consider than meets the eye, but that’s what makes the discussion so interesting.

Similarly, if you had two people without the ‘aggression gene’ but one was raised in an abusive, lower-class household, it’s rather easy to suspect and come to the conclusion that they would be more likely to commit crimes than the person from the supposedly ‘healthy’ household. We can’t put the blame on one thing – and I think that’s something that a lot of people try too hard to do when it comes to the actions of criminals of any kind. For centuries, we have been looking into crime and trying to draw conclusions and explanations as to why people have done the things they have – and we do that to either try and understand their mindsets or try to prevent it from happening again. However, it’s not that predictable, and it’s never going to be. There isn’t a positive correlation between all the criminals on the planet, there’s no one cause or one similarity apart from the fact that they could be classified as a ‘criminal’, and so there’s no way to say whether nature or nurture is to blame. 

This isn’t a discussion piece to provide you with an answer or a different solicited opinion, it’s just a piece to explore the different perspectives and pieces of information that we have to consider, especially when exploring a topic as big as this one. 

Another rather sensitive factor that needs to be considered is the presence of mental illness in an individual. You could point at a serial killer and state they suffer from borderline personality disorder, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a serial killer because they have borderline personality disorder. There’s not a correlation between the two – they don’t go hand in hand – else every other person with BPD on the planet could be assumed to be another soon-to-be serial killer if they haven’t already committed the deed. Yes, it’s confusing to think about, but it makes sense if you actually take time to consider it. Not all criminals are going to have an ‘aggression gene’ just like not all people with brown hair are going to be excellent at math. There isn’t actually any link between the two factors, and it really depends on the sample base you’re considering too. 

It’s tricky to factor in mental health elements because, once again, that approaches the argument between whether criminality is all down to the DNA and genetic make-up of a person or whether it can be influenced by outside factors that they become exposed to. 

I know that this is rather a heavy discussion post – it’s a serious topic, and there’s a lot of serious conversation about it, but it’s something to consider and think about further when looking at things such as school shootings and possible criminal intent. Something that’s unfortunately linked to this conversation is the fact that a lot of people will try and use one of the arguments as an excuse for the deeds that the individual or group carries out. Say if they are proven to have a mental illness but acted criminally despite that, people will still jump at the chance to say ‘they were a great, lovely individual, but they were so depressed and misunderstood, that’s clearly not their own fault’. But, see, people will also only throw out that argument as long as the criminal in question fits the correct image for their publicity and their statement needs – which, unsurprisingly, links into the racial and ethical prejudice that’s been raging on around the world forever. 

Overall, we don’t know what makes a criminal a criminal. There’s no solid evidence saying that we possibly cannot have what’s known as an ‘aggression’ gene, but then there’s no evidence that shows that every single criminal has acted as a result of their DNA makeup. Then, in other cases, environmental factors can have some effect to a certain extent, but then there are going to be people exposed to those same situations that don’t turn to crime, so why are some more susceptible than others?

This post wasn’t meant to address or suggest anything regarding the recent school shooting in Florida – my opinions on gun laws in America and the handling of school protocol when it comes to the event of a shooting is something else completely and would have to be referenced in a different, lengthy opinion piece. This piece is just meant to explore the question of whether or not the argument of being genetically criminal makes sense – why it does, why it doesn’t, and why we probably will never know. 

Whatever you happen to think for yourself, it definitely is something interesting to consider because there’s no solid answer that one of us can provide. Hell, this post might make no sense whatsoever, but I’m getting words down on a page and taking time to talk to the void if you will. Think about it. 

Thanks for reading. I’ll write you later.


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1 thought on “Discussion: Is Being A Criminal In Your Genetics?”

  • I saw your article on Landesy. I think this is a very complicated and complex subject, I generally think that everyone can become a criminal at any moment and depends about the time and place. I have kids, if someone try to hurt my kids I may kill that person, in my country this action no matter what you become a criminal even if it was self-defense.

    I also think that TV shows can change our behavior. Have you seen Hannibal the tv series? There are show that people with mental illness should no watch. I have more to comment but I don’t have enough time. Great article!

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