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Neuro News: Genetics, Sociopaths, and DV

May 23, 2011
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How much behavior is learned or inherited, especially for sociopaths? Supremist feminists claim all behavior is environment, that is learned. They have emotional issues.

By Robert Yourell

They say that children exposed to violence grow up to be violent. Well, that’s the impression from some headlines and little articles about the state of the research. Unfortunately, that’s a gross generalization that could be harmful. Do we love stereotypes or what? Researchers, if candid, will tell you that, although it is “statistically significant,” the connection isn’t as strong as it sounds. All you need in order to have statistical significance is that you have better than even odds of something happening. It doesn’t mean good odds.

But it gets worse. Does the childhood violence CAUSE the adult violence? Consider genetics. We have a lot to learn about this, but let’s talk about sociopaths for a minute, since my last article was about the sociopath as the DV perp stereotype. A look at all the available research (Ferguson, 2010) yielded the estimate that genetics accounts for about 56% of what makes a person into a sociopath. Old school feminists must not like this. In my experience, they are quick to accuse you of trying to let violent criminals off the hook if you point to anything other than free will and responsibility. At least they did until the spike in female DV arrests, the discovery of mental illness and drug abuse as aspects of DV, DV in lesbian relationships, and other factors that contribute to a more sympathetic picture that deserves treatment instead of a purely punitive approach.

However, in addition to learning violence (violent parents as role models), there are two other factors that make nurture (vs. nature) important to consider. One is genetic subtypes. That is, some people are more vulnerable to the effects of stress, including the effect of exposure to violence in childhood. Some fraction of us humans has genetic vulnerability to stress. The result is actual genetic change that can yield psychiatric problems such as anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, and even outbreaks of severe mental illness. The other “nurture” factor is long-standing effects of psychological trauma (PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder). This can contribute to violence in many cases (but please don’t stereotype people with PTSD, violence is by no means a given with this disorder, and it isn’t even one of the symptoms for diagnosis). We also know that the violence is not just directed at other people. People with a history of suicide attempts are more likely to be violent in relationships. (Again, that’s a just statistic, not a judgement about everyone who has attempted suicide.)

What would our society be like if we actually assessed people in violent relationships and figured out what problems contributed to their violence? How about understanding the level and type of violence and the triggers involved? Judging from other effective social programs, it would actually be an investment that pays back in multiple dollars for each dollar spent. Treatment and services would be for problems like alcohol abuse, PTSD, high levels of personal stress, and unemployment.

Reading

Ferguson, C. (2010). Genetic contributions to antisocial personality and behavior: A meta-analytic review from an evolutionary perspective.  The Journal of Social Psychology, 150(2), 160–180. Accessed at http://www.tamiu.edu/~CFERGUSON/evmeta.pdf

Robert A. Yourell a consultant and therapist. He produces Sounds for Inner Space, with free sample experiences at his site, www.PsychInnovations.com. There, you can learn to “shimmer” away the triggers that cause you to react in ways you do not intend. See the free Shimmering Workbook. Clinical professionals and students will appreciate the PsychIN Directory of mental health research tools and article sources. Contact Robert at 619/677-6970 or toll-free at 877/266-8880.

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One Response to Neuro News: Genetics, Sociopaths, and DV

  1. Elaine Thompson on December 17, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    "supremist(sic) feminists"? "old school feminists"? Reading those phrases, I immediately went to the very top of the page to see from whence came such nonsense. "National Coalition for Men" it is.

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