Tuesday, July 28, 2015

nowhere near established science yet admissable in a court of law?


nih.gov |  Are all humans innately and equally capable of inflicting harm on others? Do we learn by our various experiences to manipulate and even harm others for our own personal gain; or conversely, to be kind and benevolent, offering help even at costs to ourselves? Although these fundamental questions pertaining to the nature of human aggression have plagued scientists and laypersons for centuries, some answers can be found in research spanning the last few decades.

The early experiments of Milgram (1963) made it clear that, under certain circumstances, individuals can be coaxed into aggression and violence. The presence of a strict authority and removal of personal responsibility for one's actions can result in aggressive behaviors that inflict harm on others. The infamous Stanford prison experiment (Haney et al., 1973) also demonstrated that the propensity toward violence and aggression can be elicited—extremely and unexpectedly—in situations, where a legitimized ideology and a powerful authority can lead to impressionability and obedience.

Yet, while these powerful studies revealed the importance of social factors in inducing aggressive behaviors, not all individuals responded in an equally aggressive manner. In Milgram's (1963) first set of experiments, while 65% (26 of 40) of participants complied with the instruction to administer what they believed to be a final, massive 450-volt shock, the remaining 35% did not comply. Many of those who engaged in the aggressive behavior stated they were very uncomfortable doing so, and every participant reportedly questioned the experiment at some point or refused money promised for their study participation (Milgram, 1963). Although the studies by Milgram and Zimbardo provide clear evidence for the role of environment and social situations in affecting aggressive behavior, there are, nonetheless, large individual differences in the propensity for violence and aggression, even under these extreme circumstances.

What factors contribute to individual differences in aggression? Behavioral genetic studies of family members' resemblance for aggressive behavior help shed light on the matter. Twin and adoption studies agree with the experimental literature on aggression, which shows that a large effect of environmental factors is evident, particularly of the nonshared variety. Yet, there is also plenty of evidence, based on a variety of definitions of aggressive behavior from children to adults, for genetic propensity toward aggression (see reviews by Burt, 2009; Miles and Carey, 1997; Rhee and Waldman, 2002). Although few behavioral genetic studies have explicitly examined the question of gene by environment (G × E) interactions, we contend that such interactions are likely to exist and that the genetic propensity for aggression should exert its effects more strongly in some situations than others. Consistent with the early findings of Milgram and Zimbardo, individual genetic predispositions should moderate the extent to which aggression can be elicited, even in extreme situations such as these infamous studies. Our view is that while many, if not most, humans may have the potential for aggression and violence under the right circumstances, not all individuals will succumb to these behaviors under the same circumstances.

This chapter will review recent evidence of genetic and environmental influences on human aggression, with particular attention to several key questions and issues.