Research into DNA from some 900 Finnish criminals has identified two genes linked to violent crime. Those who had the genes were thirteen times more likely to have a history of violent crime than those who didn’t.
The genes were identified as MAOA and CDH13, and both are relatively common. The researchers say that some 5-10 percent of all serious violent crime in Finland could be attributable to the genes.
Only around half of violent behavior is explained by the genes, with the other half explained by environmental factors. They were at pains to point out, however, that the majority of those who have the genes are not violent, and other factors—particularly alcohol usage—in combination with the two genes are important causes of offenders’ violent behavior.
In practice, this means the genes could explain why some people become violent when drunk. Researchers say that preventing violence by intervention in substance abuse cases is difficult but not impossible.
“There are ways (to intervene),” said professor Jari Tiihonen of Karoliinska Institute in Stockholm, who led the research group. “If a person is given for example disulfiram a couple of times a week in observable conditions, it prevents alcohol usage. This would definitely have a big impact on the risk of recidivism.”
Disulfiram is a drug which causes an acute sensitivity to alcohol and is used in the treatment of crhonic alcoholism.
Tiihonen also recommended a different sentencing regime that would grant lighter sentences for those violent criminals who commit to sobriety.
The research identifying the two ‘violence genes’ was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. It was conducted by Niuvanniemi hospital, Karolinska Institute, the Institute for health and social welfare, Helsinki University, the University of Eastern Finland and the Criminal Sanctions Agency.