Finnish researcher wants DNA test on convicted psychopaths

September 21, 2010
This undated illustration shows the DNA double helix. A simple genetic test can help predict whether psychopaths convicted of violent crimes are prone to be repeat offenders, a Finnish researcher said Tuesday.

A simple genetic test can help predict whether psychopaths convicted of violent crimes are prone to be repeat offenders, a Finnish researcher said Tuesday.

"It has long been known that there is a biological, a to psychotic tendencies," said Helsinki University researcher Matti Virkkunen, who co-authored a study published in Psychiatric Research.

The research, which was a joint Finnish-American project, showed that convicts who scored high on both a traditional behavioural disorder test and had a certain gene variance were far more likely to commit additional violent crimes than those who scored high on the test but did not have the same gene variance.

The study followed 167 convicts for seven years after they were released from prison. All of the subjects had been convicted of aggravated violent crimes, were alcoholic, and had scored high enough on the assessment test to rate them as psychopathic.

They were also genetically tested to show a particular variance of a gene called monoamine oxidase A (MAOA).

They discovered that so-called "high activity" MAOA offenders were far more likely than "low-activity" subjects to repeat their crimes.

Specifically, for each additional point on the psychopathic assessment test, those with the "high-activity" were 6.8 percent more likely to become repeat offenders.

The genetic test on its own is not enough, said Virkkunen, but it becomes a highly significant factor when added to variables such as the psychopathic assessment test, alcohol use and age.

For this reason, the researchers recommend that the genetic test be used alongside the assessment test when a convict for a severe is being evaluated for parole.

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gwrede
1 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2010
For this reason, the researchers recommend that the genetic test be used alongside the assessment test when a convict for a severe violent crime is being evaluated for parole.
This test should immediately be backed by additional research, and shown to be independent of race. Thereafter this should be standard practice everywhere!

Having said that, this test in no way purports to understand the psychology of those criminals. Which is good, and humble.

This test is also a harbinger of other tests, that inevitably will become standard issue in an ever increasing number of perp/crime combinations.

The unexpected upside is, this may actually help the criminal to relate, understand, and adjust! Today, many of them simply wonder why "things happen to me and not others".
kuro
4 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2010
The test idea is a harbinger of a society, where shameless peddling of inconclusive statistical correlations as "science", and the embrace of those by the government will cause lives to be ruined forever.

Kind of like the "irrefutable" DNA evidence, which wrongly put so many people in prison 20 years ago doesn't stand the scrutiny of the newer, improved testing methods developed since.

With the small difference that DNA testing is by nature objective and has scientific basis and the problem was mostly on the government side - in understanding and methodology; but the "psychological" mumbo-jumbo drivel above is just a modern version of shamanism.
frajo
not rated yet Sep 23, 2010
Kind of like the "irrefutable" DNA evidence, which wrongly put so many people in prison 20 years ago doesn't stand the scrutiny of the newer, improved testing methods developed since.
Maybe the number of wrong penalty terms would have been even higher without the admitttedly errorprone use of DNA evidence?
kuro
not rated yet Sep 27, 2010
Maybe the number of wrong penalty terms would have been even higher without the admitttedly errorprone use of DNA evidence?


Not quite so in my jurisdiction -- early on DNA evidence was sold as "irrefutable" and DNA clues were used to browbeat people into confessions and convictions even in cases where now, after enough experience and understanding has been accumulated, the problems are obvious.

Currently, the number of sentences from the period that are on appeal because of suspected DNA evidence problems is very high.

So, IMHO, a new technique, even as theoretically irrefutable as DNA testing should be placed on some sort of "probation" and require additional evidence until enough public knowledge is available that would allow the defense to argue the merits and problems of the evidence, obtained with the technique, on equal footing with the prosecution.
jakeefe
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2010
Admittedly, I have not read the original study. BUT, the co-author is quoted as saying "It has long been known that there is a biological, a genetic element to psychotic tendencies" and its a study of psychopaths? Psychopaths are not psychotic, by DSM definition, they are Axis II personality disorders. There is NO science that has consistently found that genetics is a major component of Psychopathy, none at all.
Disregard this study.
jakeefe
not rated yet Sep 27, 2010
Pardon my venting, but this is just the worst kind of science reporting. There is no evidence of any science at all, given the failure to disclose the relationships between the measures. Did the 'psychopathic assessment test' (which I assume was the Hare) correlate with the genetic test? What was the relationship between alcoholism (which can be influenced by genetics) and either the Hare or the AMAO genetic variance?
This is a mess, and no conclusion can be drawn.
Please, AP writer, take a statistics course.

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