On the Genetic Criminality

J. J. Baloch


This article, using genetics, tries to explain criminal behaviour in terms of genes and facial features of human beings. Modern crime science very aggressively claims that genes and facial features can be instrumental in understanding and in predicting as to who will commit which crime! Though this connotation might have flabbergasted few but have saddened many to fall victim to this so called infallible machine crime readings.

Being a cop it startles me like anything to believe that there could be some crime or war genes in human body or mind but many crime scientists are struggling to establish this through their modern research on criminal behaviour that such genes do exist. Having the amateurish understanding of the biological make-up of human brain and body, we as the policemen can hardly think that criminals are born but our anecdotes tell us that they are created. However, whether genetic tendencies of crime should be factored into criminal profiling and sentencing or not would constitute to be the leading question of criminal justice research and policy in future.

Our blame or reliance on the environment and social conditions as responsible for criminal behaviour are also owned by the sociological as well as a psychological school of criminal behaviour but the modern research on criminality appears to have tilted more towards verifying and further exploring the claims of the biological school to explain the causes of crime.

“Due to perceived racial bias in previous studies, genetics have been left out of the theoretical equation for analysing and interpreting crime for the past 20 years by most involved in criminological studies… Scientists are quick to warn that social or environmental factors play a meaningful role in whether or not genetic crime-contributors will ever be triggered; however, studies have revealed compelling information.” Poor diet, mental illness, bad brain chemistry, and even evolutionary rewards for aggressive criminal conduct have been proposed by the proponents of the biological constructions of human criminal behaviour.


Criminologists are now interested in understanding as to how genes can increase the risk of committing the crime. Recent studies of criminal behaviour in the US have confirmed that samples of twins and other children were exposed to eight or more environmental risk factors and those samples in which genetic formations of crime were dominated showed 80% tendency towards violence. “In a long-term study of 1,000 babies, children who demonstrated less self-control at three were more likely to commit crimes 30 years later. Despite this, criminologists reassure that there is no such thing as a ‘crime gene’; rather, traits that are linked to aggressive or antisocial behaviour that could lead to crime in certain environments are the subject of research.”

On 28 October 2014 Melissa Hogenboom, a science reporter for BBC referring to the British Journal of Molecular Psychiatry reported that criminologists carried out a study in Finland which had found that  “the association between genes and violence was strongest for repeat violent offenders”. The study explained at least 10% of all violent crime in Finland could be attributed to individuals with these genotypes. According to the finding, two genes in the human body were linked to the violent behaviour.

“The two genes associated with violent repeat offenders were the MAOA gene and a variant of cadherin 13 (CDH13). The MAOA gene codes for the enzyme Monoamine Oxidase A, which is important for controlling the amount of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. CDH13 has previously been associated with substance abuse and ADHD. Those classified as non-violent offenders did not have this genetic profile. A deficiency of the enzyme this controls could result in “dopamine hyperactivity” especially when an individual drinks alcohol or takes drugs such as amphetamines, said Prof Tiihonen. The majority of all individuals who commit a severe violent crime in Finland do so under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”


Media reports on recently disclosed findings of Chinese criminological research awaken many who deals with crime or are the part of criminal justice for their attention to genetic and facial formations of the criminals. Rob Jongschaap an analyst of crime and criminality  writes referring to this study: “In a paper titled ‘Automated Inference on Criminality using Face Images,’ two Shanghai Jiao Tong University researchers say they fed ‘facial images of 1,856 real persons’ into computers and found ‘some discriminating structural features for predicting criminality, such as lip curvature, eye inner corner distance, and the so-called nose-mouth angle.’ They conclude that all four classifiers perform consistently well and produce evidence for the validity of automated face-induced inference on criminality, despite the historical controversy surrounding the topic.”

Automated inference on criminality using face images by Chinese criminologists reads: “We study, for the first time, automated inference on criminality based solely on still face images. Via supervised machine learning, we build four classifiers (logistic regression, KNN, SVM, CNN) using facial images of 1856 real persons controlled for race, gender, age and facial expressions, nearly half of whom were convicted criminals, for discriminating between criminals and non-criminals. All four classifiers perform consistently well and produce evidence for the validity of automated face-induced inference on criminality, despite the historical controversy surrounding the topic. Also, we find some discriminating structural features for predicting criminality, such as lip curvature, eye inner corner distance, and the so-called nose-mouth angle.”

“Above all, the most important discovery of this research is that criminal and non-criminal face images populate two quite distinctive manifolds. The variation among criminal faces is significantly greater than that of the non-criminal faces. The two manifolds consisting of criminal and non-criminal faces appear to be concentric, with the non-criminal manifold lying in the kernel with a smaller span, exhibiting a law of normality for faces of non-criminals. In other words, the faces of the general law-abiding public have a greater degree of resemblance compared with the faces of criminals, or criminals have a higher degree of dissimilarity in facial appearance than normal people…”

Many fear that such crime face readers and half cooked genetic basis for criminality could be very problematic, discriminatory and in many cases very biased on the basis of ethnicity, race, colour, and religion.  “The fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning are moving so quickly that any notion of ethics is lagging decades behind, or left to works of science fiction.” This is what a new study at Shanghai Jiao Tong University tries to establish and explain. How strange it looks to us that now onwards computers can tell whether one will be a criminal based on nothing more than your facial features and genetic makeup. This attempt is closer to the similar bankrupt moral basis of popular psychological theories of last millennia which tried to justify the supremacy of one racial group over another.

“But phrenology, which involved studying the cranium to determine someone’s character and intelligence, was debunked around the time of the Industrial Revolution, and few outside of the pseudo-scientific fringe would still claim that the shape of your mouth or size of your eyelids might predict whether you’ll become a rapist or thief”, Rob J. further argues.

Determining who will commit what type of crime in what circumstances with what genetic composition is a complex analysis. Various academic fields contribute relevant theories that must be understood by the criminologists to advance their understanding of why certain types of people commit certain types of crimes. But could this be possible for anyone to have some certain and definite deductions without ever knowing the ‘motive’ which is cardinal part of any type of crime?

“We’re all products of genetics and the environment but I don’t think that robs us of free will or understanding right and wrong”, says Dr Christopher Ferguson, Stetson University, Florida

Though these new aspects of understanding and explaining crime require more scientific inquiry and scrutiny, yet are very appealing and interesting themes for cops as well as other criminal justice agents. These new ideas of explaining criminality are yet to go a long way in developing a strong theoretical framework based on testable and reliable findings.

The Writer is a policing educator and a novelist…


Author: PublicPolicyInsights

With MSc Criminal Justice Policy from London School of Economics, London, UK, J. J Baloch has 20 years of work experience. He has worked in National Bank of Pakistan as officer grade 2 from 1995 to 2000. From 2000 till date He is working at Police Service of Pakistan. As an author he has published three books: Introduction to sociology, 2000; On the Art of Writing Essays, 2016; and The Power of Social Media & Policing Challenges, 2016. On 17 March 2017 J.J. Baloch is launching his first novel: "Whiter Than White: The Daughter of The Land of Pure" which is being published by Matador publication from the UK. Besides this, he regularly blogs on Google, Facebook. He also writes articles in English newspaper Dawn and also in some other magazines.

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