Gene-environment interactions and criminological theory


Watts, Stephen Jesse (2014). Gene-environment interactions and criminological theory.


This dissertation focuses on integrating several popular theories of crime into a biosocial framework that accounts for recent research in the gene-environment interaction (GxE) literature. The three theories I specifically focus on are self-control theory, general strain theory (GST), and social learning theory. Regression analyses conducted using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) demonstrate the utility of combining these criminological theories with a GxE modeling approach. These analyses reveal several important findings. First, in the analysis based on self-control theory, MAOA and DAT1 genotype moderate the effect of the parent-child relationship on both low self-control and criminal behavior. Specifically, those in the sample who carry so-called “plasticity alleles” for both MAOA and DAT1 are more vulnerable the negative effects of parenting as it relates to self-control and criminal behavior than are those in the sample who do not carry plasticity alleles for either of these genes, demonstrating a significant a GxE. Secondly, the analyses based on GST reveal that those in the sample that are homozygous for the s-allele of 5-HTTLPR (s/s) are more vulnerable to the negative effects of the attempted or actual suicide of friends and family during adolescence in regards to their levels of depressive symptoms and criminal behavior than are those in the sample that carry other allelic variations for 5-HTTLPR (s/l, l/s, and l/l). Finally, the analysis focusing on social learning theory shows that the effect of affiliations with delinquent peers on one’s own criminal behavior is greater among those individuals who are homozygous for the 10R allele of DAT1 (10R/10R) than among those who carry no 10R DAT1 alleles. These results represent a contribution to the evolving field of biosocial criminology, and call for more theorizing and research of this type. Suggested directions for future research stemming from this project are also discussed.


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Watts, Stephen Jesse

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