Psychopathy is defined as a mental personality disorder in which an individual exhibits continuous anti-social behaviour

Psychopathy is defined as a mental personality disorder in which an individual exhibits continuous anti-social behaviour. The individual also shows a lack of empathy, remorse and the capability to form a meaningful relationship. This essay will focus on psychopathy and to what extent it relates to the environment compared to genetics. The aim of this essay is to discuss the contributing genetic factors as to why the personality disorder exists and the environmental factors that allows it to. An example of genetics contributing to psychopathy can be shown in Caspi et al., (2002 pp. 851-854) where the study looked at a sample of maltreated males from their birth to their adulthood to see how the MAOA gene affected the individuals mood and behaviour, and its possible links to influencing psychopathic traits; the results will be explained further in the essay. On the other hand, some environmental factors that may have contributed to the disorder could be violence, childhood neglect, childhood abuse and deprivation in infancy. Some of these important environmental factors will be explored in detail further on in the essay.
Although there is no definitive proof that genes alone cause psychopathy there have been numerous genes that have been linked to psychopathy. The gene that is popularly linked to psychopathy is the MAOA gene (Monoamine oxidase A) also known as the ‘warrior gene’; those who have the low activity MAOA gene are more likely to be violent, impulsive and aggressive. The MAOA gene controls the production of a protein that breaks down neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. Having low level activity of this gene results in key neurotransmitters such as serotonin (which is responsible to regulate mood, social behaviour and function) and dopamine (affects emotions) being abnormal because of low activity in this gene causing psychopathic traits such as lack of empathy, lack of remorse, impulsivity, irresponsibility and short-term relationships.
A study conducted by Caspi et al. (2002 pp. 851-854) looked at a large sample of male children from their birth to adulthood to see why some of the maltreated children grow up to exhibit anti-social behaviour whereas others do not. They found that the MAOA gene moderated the effect of maltreatment and those with abnormal production and regulation of MAOA were less likely to develop anti-social problems compared to those who had low levels of MAOA activity. This study supports the idea that those with low activity MAOA gene and those who have irregularity in the production and regulation of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin are more likely to exhibit psychopathic (antisocial) traits. This shows that there is a compelling link of genes such as the MAOA gene with psychopathy or at a minimum that genes do play a significant role in psychopathy and antisocial behaviour.
Furthermore, Beaver et al. (2011, pp.426-432) used an adoption-based research design to see the genetic effects on those who had psychopathic personality traits. The adoptees were drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results revealed that by having a biological father that was a criminal the male adoptees would either have a psychopathic personality or similar traits, however the female adoptees did not. The study also determined that there was no link between a biological criminal mother and the adoptee having psychopathic traits. The study proves at the very least that there is a partial genetic link that psychopathy is transmitted from father to the male offspring.


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