Posts Tagged ‘NPR’

The Warrior Gene

July 12, 2010 4 comments

Recently NPR reported a story on the advancing research behind monoamine oxidase-A, also known as the “warrior gene”.  The gene controls the levels of MAOA in the body. Those possessing  a specific form of MAOA have been linked with a predisposition to engage in, and commit violent acts.

In 2006 it was uncovered that Maori tribesmen from New Zealand often carry the gene. The New Zealand researchers claimed that roughly 60 per cent of Maori men appear to carry the necessary variant of the gene, while only 30 per cent of European men seem to carry it. The potentially racist implications of the discovery ignited a large controversy over the application of this research both at home and abroad. In the United States, as research continued and brain scans grew more accurate, the debate is beginning to shift into the justice system.

The Science Daily is reporting that a Florida State University study has discovered young men that carry the “warrior gene” have a greater tendency to join gangs, and to be one of the more dangerous members of that gang. A study done by King’s College in London mirrors thos results. The BBC reported that 12 per cent of the 442 young men in the study have the “warrior gene”, and that group committed 44 per cent of the violent crimes.

According to NPR reporter Barbara Hagerty, approximately 1,200 combined cases in civil and criminal courts in the US have admitted gene evidence on MAOA for consideration. While the general trend is that neuroscience studies are not admitted, there have been exceptions.

The end result of the increasing use of a not guilty by reasons of mental disease or insanity defense leads to a scary place for the justice system. Much of the US legal system is based on retributive punishment. People deserve the punishment they receive for their crimes against the community. What happens if science is able to prove that they are not actually responsible for their crimes?

Some experts are wary about the potential for MAOA to force the US to rethink is justice system. During NPR’s interview with Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscience expert at the University of New Mexico, a youth treatment program in Wisconsin run by Michael Caldwell has been able to work around the “warrior gene” to some extent. Kiehl reports that Caldwell has been able to reduce violent recidivism by a rate of over 50 per cent. If MAOA can be worked around and overcome, then some responsibility will continue to rest with individual who commits the act.