Research by Kevin Beaver at Florida State University has found a link between the low-activity version of the gene MAOA and gang behaviour in men. This gene, which is rarely found in women, has been shown to be related to aggression in men who have been abused as children.
Beaver found that men with low-activity MAOA were twice as likely to join gangs as men with the normal version. Furthermore, of gang members, men with low-activity MAOA were four times as likely to have used a weapon, compared to men with the normal version of the gene.
This is the latest in a number of studies that relate genetics to aggression in some men, some of which I have reported here. Men with the XYY chromosome variation have long been identified as more aggressive than the more common XY chromosome variation, and are overrepresented in the prison population.
What these studies are showing is that, for some men, aggression is likely to be a problem for them, and those around them – for genetic reasons. Furthermore these men, in principle anyway, could be identified by genetic testing. It follows that these men could be targeted for early intervention before their aggression causes them difficulties.
Anger is the only emotion that, if seen in excess, is dealt with by the criminal justice system rather than the health care system. What is disturbing about this is that the criminal justice system may be good at ‘containing’ these aggressive men, but offers precious little to address their underlying emotional regulation issues. In fact I have worked with many men who have received repeated prison sentences for aggressive behaviour – in none of these cases did the criminal justice system offer anything to help the man understand and moderate his aggressive behaviour.
I can’t help thinking that if ‘aggression’ was something identified by women as an issue within their ranks, aggressive behaviour would have become a health care priority a long time ago.
Things might be about to change. The American Psychiatric Association has been reported recently to be considering ‘aggressive behaviour’ as a distinct clinical diagnosis. If they proceed with this, and I hope they do, this might force service providers and clinicians to provide services for these men – many of whom, as I have repeatedly shown, often have a biological predisposition to aggression.
It seems to me to make sense to address the cause of aggressive behaviour in some men. Such a strategy may well reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, and the social distress these men’s behaviour causes, not least to the men themselves.
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