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Sep 222013

DNA-is-not-destinyI sent an article to a friend of mine who is a well respected therapist, and with whom I have discussed psychopathy through the years. My friend also has a son in prison for killing an infant, and believes his son is a psychopath, just like his mother. So my very learned friend who works with sex offenders among other offenders, is pretty “up on” the biological as well as the environmental issues in offending behaviors.

The article I sent him is http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/nyregion/the-day-when-neurons-go-on-trial.html?ref=science

The Day When Neurons Go on Trial By JIM DWYER

Here are law students on a Tuesday morning in 2013, hearing that researchers hope over the next decade or so to map the wiring of the human brain, seeing how individual cells link to bigger circuits. A decade is a sprint, less time than since 9/11, to use one benchmark. The scientists want to lift the hood and get a look at the human mind. The students, in a seminar at Fordham University School of Law taught by Prof. Deborah W. Denno, wonder what that will mean for the law. Over and over, they put questions to a guest speaker, Joshua R. Sanes, director of the Center for Brain Science at Harvard, about the implications for society if and when brain science can identify with confidence a propensity for violence, or for lying.

In response to my article, he sent the link to this article and a quote from Dr. Novella, a neuro scientist.

In my opinion the best approach is something in the middle. There is a common pearl of wisdom in clinical science that, before you can recognize the abnormal you have to recognize the full spectrum of what is normal. So – on the one hand we need to recognize the full spectrum of human nature, accept less common and atypical forms of human mood, thought, and behavior, and also recognize the relative roles of biology, situation, and culture (and their interactions) in forming a person’s mental state.

On the other hand, the brain is an organ, it is biology, and it can malfunction biologically just like any other organ. Further, even a biologically healthy brain can be pushed beyond tolerance limits resulting in an unhealthy mental state. We can reasonably define “unhealthy” in this context (probably a more appropriate word than “abnormal”) as follows – a mental state that is significantly outside the range of most people, may represent the relative lack of a cognitive ability that most people have, and results in definable harm. That last bit is critical – it has to be harmful.-

In reading on Dr. Novella’s blog, which contains a wealth of information and scientific research, I am amazed at the insight this man has into the brain’s functions as well as the role of environmental issues as well .http://theness.com/neurologicablog/

Just as Dr. Hart’s research goes to show that even long addicted substance abusers have choices in how they respond to the available drugs versus other “rewards” for foregoing the drugs, Dr. Novella’s research and the research of other neuro and behavioral scientists show that there is a genetic tendency to offending behavior but there are still choices, and there are social and environmental aspects as well.

The human brain and human behavior is very complex, and can’t be summed up in a few words or a few theories. We must look at the entire picture to see what the problem is. Unfortunately, there are not “solutions” to fix every person who offends, because they don’t want to be “fixed” in the way that we would have them behave.

Being able to “rehabilitate” an individual from engaging in offending behavior relies on the willingness of that individual to conform their behavior to what society expects.

In the meantime, those of us with offending family members must protect ourselves from those who would use or abuse us, and many times that protection means that we are not able to have a relationship with these people. We must exclude them from our lives. Whether the problem with them is DNA or environmental doesn’t really matter when it comes to our lives and the effects these individuals have on our lives.

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  3 Responses to “DNA is not destiny—but it does contribute to behavior Neuro-science's new discoveries on environmental versus biological causes

  1. Another interesting study on brain mapping and addictions

    Compulsive users of porn show the same signs of addiction in their brain as those hooked on booze or drugs, according to researchers.

    The brains of young men who are obsessed by online pornography ‘lit up like Christmas trees’ upon being shown erotic images, a pioneering study has found.

    The area stimulated – the part of the brain involved in processing reward, motivation and pleasure – is the same part that is highly active among drug and alcohol addicts.


    The question is, are they addicts because their brains are different, or ar their brains different because they are addicts?

  2. Joyce, I believe that genetics play a tremendous role in a number of things – behaviors, predisposition to diseases and medical conditions, etc.

    Having typed that, there have been numerous studies that suggest that even children who may carry spath or ppath genetics can LEARN to process empathy, sympathy, and remorse. They may not “feel” it the same way that the non-disordered do, but they can recognize it and work with what they have been taught.

    One thing about genetic studies of psychopaths has been nagging at the back of my head. If (let’s just pretend that this is possible) a diagnosed psychopath or sociopath was “cured” via genetic or stem-cell therapy, would that necessarily eliminate the anomaly of personality disorders?

  3. Well, genetics are the paper but environment is the pen with which we write our life stories. Genes can be there, but be turned off, then something in the environment turns them on, but only in people who had the gene to start with. If they didn’t have the gene it couldn’t be turned on. So with out the “paper” a “pen” couldn’t write…

    as for your hypothetical question about “curing” a sociopath with genetic therapy, who knows? it may happen and may not…

    You are right though that MANY if not most things seem to have a genetic predisposition, diabetes, bi-polar, depression, psychopathy, height, weight, etc etc

    I just finished a study of studies of psychopathy and statistically more women who smoked during gestation had a significantly higher rate of psychopathic babies…but, that does NOT prove that smoking causes psychopathy in their offspring, only that maybe women who smoke have some gene that predisposes them to smoke and a nearby gene codes for psychopathy in their offspring. Correlation is NOT causation. Only that the two things have some kind of relationship.

    There are MANY things that have correlation to psychopathy, and studies of twins raised apart show that genetics plays a HIGH role in psychopathy…less than environment.

    People still tend to believe in many cases that genetics is very limited in humans, and that is just not so, it has as much or more influence than in animals.

    I laugh when people tell me that their pit bull dog is such a sweetie….two children were mauled to death this week by pit bulls, or when they tell me their pet cougar or lion or tiger is such a pussy cat. Dogs and other domestic breeds of animals have been bred for certain temperments or traits.and Pit bull dogs have been bred to fight, to bite…and while there may be the occasional one who won’t fight or bite…you never know when that instinct will be triggered.

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