The nature versus nurture debate is welling up again with the arrest of a Bin Laden relative, and talk about the inheritability of genetic criminality.
In a nutshell, the current consensus of about genetic dispositions for most behaviors is that at beast we can inherit a potential for certain behaviors, which can be encouraged or discouraged by upbringing, culture, and other influences – all fo which can continue to shift and change throughout life. Or as Andrew Solomon put it, the “issue is how we nurture our nature.” Today’s slate tries to unpack some of these issues, as follows:
“Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law has been captured in Jordan and will be flown to New York to face terrorism charges. Analysts say that Sulaiman abu Ghaith is a senior al-Qaida figure. Combining the genes of Osama Bin Laden with that of another accomplished terrorist sounds like it could be a terrifying prospect (Sulaiman abu Ghaith and Bin Laden’s daughter Fatima have one young child). Is there a genetic component to criminality?
“Possibly. Psychiatric researchers have conducted scores of studies attempting to detect and quantify the influence of genetics on antisocial behavior. (Antisocial behavior usually encompasses criminality, personality disorders that involve disregard for others, and aggressiveness.) The results have varied widely, with some studies finding virtually no genetic component and others claiming that genetics account for more than 50 percent of the variability in antisocial behavior. The best estimates, which combine results from the most methodologically sound studies, put the genetic influence at between 30 and 40 percent of the variance in criminality among people. If that estimate is correct—and it may be badly off—being raised by a criminal mastermind is a better predictor of criminality than being sired by one.
“Criminality clearly runs in families, even if it’s difficult to separate genetic and environmental factors. Study after study has shown that children born to criminal parents are significantly more likely to become criminals. A 2011 study examining 12.5 million Swedes over more than three decades found that those with a first-degree relative who was a criminal were 4.3 times more likely to commit violent crime than those born to a crime-free nuclear family. The effect was even more pronounced for specific crimes, with arson running particularly strongly in families. Other studies have shown that only 8 percent of families account for 43 percent of arrestees.”