"Warrior Gene" Predicts Gang Membership


clockwork orange

A new report in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry by Florida State University biosocial criminologist Kevin Beaver finds that males who carry a specific "low activity" allele of a gene for monoamine oxidase a (MAOA) tend to be more violent and are more likely to join gangs. As the press release for the study reports:

Boys who carry a particular variation of the gene Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), sometimes called the "warrior gene," are more likely not only to join gangs but also to be among the most violent members and to use weapons, according to a new study from The Florida State University that is the first to confirm an MAOA link specifically to gangs and guns…

"While gangs typically have been regarded as a sociological phenomenon, our investigation shows that variants of a specific MAOA gene, known as a 'low-activity 3-repeat allele,' play a significant role," said Beaver…

"Previous research has linked low-activity MAOA variants to a wide range of antisocial, even violent, behavior, but our study confirms that these variants can predict gang membership," he said. "Moreover, we found that variants of this gene could distinguish gang members who were markedly more likely to behave violently and use weapons from members who were less likely to do either."

The MAOA gene affects levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that are related to mood and behavior, and those variants that are related to violence are hereditary. Some previous studies have found the "warrior gene" to be more prevalent in cultures that are typified by warfare and aggression.

But having this version of MAOA gene does not predestine a guy to a life of ultraviolence. I as reported a while back, research in New Zealand found a big contribution comes from the environment in which MAOA low activity carriers grow up. If such males are reared in good homes with no abuse, they are no more likely to commit crimes than males who have the higher activity (low crime) version of the MAOA gene.

But here's the question: Once genetic screening becomes widely available, should such young males be subject to greater scrutiny and perhaps be offered a drug treatment that reduces their risk of becoming violent?