U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Crime File: Biology and Crime

NCJ Number
Date Published
0 pages
This video cassette, number 17 in the Crime File series, portrays a 3-member panel discussion of twin and adoption studies that have sought to determine whether genetic factors contribute to criminal behavior; implications of study findings for public policy are also considered.
Panelist Sarnoff Mednick, professor at the University of Southern California, describes his Scandinavian adoption study, which found that adopted children with natural parents having criminal histories were more likely to commit property crimes than were adopted children with adoptive parents having criminal histories. He identifies the autonomic nervous system as possibly a central biological factor in deviant behavior, since offenders have a characteristically low emotionality not amenable to disciplinary conditioning. Panelist Deborah Denno, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, notes the Mednick's adoption study found genetic correlations with property crime behavior but not with violent crimes. She describes her research studies as having found correlations between various perinatal biological disorders and subsequent violent behavior. Panelist Richard Herrnstein, professor at Harvard University, identifies genetically transmitted characteristics of typical offenders, namely, low IQ, low arousal of the autonomic nervous system, and an impulsivity that discounts future consequences of present behavior. Panelists disagree on whether instrumentation has been sufficiently developed to identify persons biologically at risk of deviant behavior. Assuming that such identifications could be made, the panel discusses approaches for positively influencing at risk children.