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Biological determinants of crime and broader social phenomena

Absurdity

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Inspired by this Slatestarcodex post (for the love of god read it, it's short). Also, just to make it clear, this isn't necessarily about genetics - although it could be. If people want to go down that route, I'm more interesting in empirical evidence than ill-informed prejudice.

Anyway, I found Scott's post interesting because it talks about the influence of environmental factors on the crime rate, such as lead:

Anyone reading this blog probably already knows that lead is very strongly suspected of causing crime. A generation after gasoline was leaded, crime increased by a factor of four; a generation after lead was banned from gasoline, crime decreased by a factor of four. Levels of automobile lead emissions were found to explain 90% of the variability in violent crime in America. States that banned lead more quickly saw crime drop more quickly. Neighborhoods with higher lead levels consistently had higher crime rates. Blood lead levels show a marked inverse correlation with IQ, and a marked direct correlation with criminal history, even when plausible confounders are taken into account. And neuroscientists have known for decades that lead damages parts of the brain normally involved in good decision-making and in impulse control.
There's also the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio which was pretty surprising as well:

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for cell membrane fluidity, especially in the brain where they affect neurotransmitter receptors and other neural functions. If there are the wrong amounts of them, this would very plausibly derange various cognitive functions.

So let’s look at Joseph Hibbeln’s paper Seafood Consumption and Homicide Mortality.

The Guardian describes it like so: “Hibbeln and his colleagues have mapped the growth in consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from seed oils in 38 countries since the 1960s against the rise in murder rates over the same period. In all cases there is an unnerving match. As omega-6 goes up, so do homicides in a linear progression. Industrial societies where omega-3 consumption has remained high and omega-6 low because people eat fish, such as Japan, have low rates of murder and depression.”

Fascinating. Anyone else have any more studies or examples of stuff like this?
 

QuickTwist

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Re: Biological causes of crime

No studies or examples, sorry. Just want to point out that the argument hinges on murder, a very seldom seen crime in the rich suburbs.

Seems reasonable the patients with bipolar were/are treated by lithium.

Interesting to see low crime tied to high IQ as well.
 

Glaerhaidh

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Re: Biological causes of crime

Interesting read, I think most health/lifestyle affecting detriments increase the stress levels and correlate with crime. I wouldn't be surprised if studies shown correlative decrease in crime after people moved out of the city, moved to a cleaner environment, stopped eating fast foods, etc.

It's good that someone starts researching and talking about it, maybe in the following centuries cities will be redesigned having stress reduction, health and crime factors in mind.
 

Intolerable

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Re: Biological causes of crime

Seems to me things can correlate but share no causative link. For example the argument over poverty and crime becomes moot when you bring IQ into the equation. Higher IQ, more job opportunities, less crime. Now you have a correlation with no causative link ( poverty and crime ) where IQ was the real difference.

I think lead poisoning is important though. There is an almost catastrophic shortfall of intelligence in some of these neighborhoods that no doubt has helped to make them hell on earth. Lead certainly helped there.

Crime can be controlled at a cultural level though. I believe what we see in most crime-infested neighborhoods is a combination of low intelligence and lax cultural norms.
 

redbaron

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Re: Biological causes of crime

It's pretty fascinating, would be interesting to discover more about it.

I've read that a lot of crime is likely to stem from a lack of social integration, whereby people end up conducting anti-social behaviours. Verbal intelligence is seen as a relevant factor because children who don't possess verbal intelligence typically have trouble completing the, 'normal' processes of integrating socially with their peers and so resort to anti-social expressions in behaviour.

It'd be interesting if we could graph physical test results of lower than average verbal intelligence in terms of omega-3/6 and lithium levels. Compare it to those of higher verbal intelligence at the same time.
 

Urakro

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Re: Biological causes of crime

It's pretty fascinating, would be interesting to discover more about it.

I've read that a lot of crime is likely to stem from a lack of social integration, whereby people end up conducting anti-social behaviours. Verbal intelligence is seen as a relevant factor because children who don't possess verbal intelligence typically have trouble completing the, 'normal' processes of integrating socially with their peers and so resort to anti-social expressions in behaviour.

It'd be interesting if we could graph physical test results of lower than average verbal intelligence in terms of omega-3/6 and lithium levels. Compare it to those of higher verbal intelligence at the same time.

Your post led me to a good read about social integration and Emile Durkheim. For instance, how more social population leads to less need for tradition, and self-sufficiency. It was basically confirming my existing beliefs, but going into more analysis and detail.

Inspired by this Slatestarcodex post (for the love of god read it, it's short). Also, just to make it clear, this isn't necessarily about genetics - although it could be. If people want to go down that route, I'm more interesting in empirical evidence than ill-informed prejudice.

Anyway, I found Scott's post interesting because it talks about the influence of environmental factors on the crime rate, such as lead:

There's also the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio which was pretty surprising as well:



Fascinating. Anyone else have any more studies or examples of stuff like this?

It's been a long time since I was right into brain stuff, but I loosely recall "brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)" being linked with Omega 3's and exercise. From what I remember, BDNF is important for learning and brain-tissue repair, which activates with exercise and sufficient omega-3 levels.

Also, I'm betting the obvious refined sugar culprit could play a part, at least some way in cognitive functioning. Not sure if it would drive someone to kill by itself.
 

TBerg

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Re: Biological causes of crime

I would want to know the measurements of the environmental effects upon the IQ of those who suffer the environmental pressures. Then we could know how far environmental amelioration would take our quest for helping people have better societies.
 

QuickTwist

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Re: Biological causes of crime

This article also poses an interesting case for morality and even whether morality is even a correct term anymore. With so much hinging on what we put into our bodies, where does the idea of learning what is moral come into play and how does intelligence work as a whole to control what we put in our bodies.. Hmm
 

QuickTwist

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Re: Biological causes of crime

It's good that someone starts researching and talking about it, maybe in the following centuries cities will be redesigned having stress reduction, health and crime factors in mind.

That would be the hope, yes. Problem is that much of this kind of stuff is left up to civil engineers and lord knows they are hit or miss.
 

Absurdity

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Re: Biological causes of crime

I've read that a lot of crime is likely to stem from a lack of social integration, whereby people end up conducting anti-social behaviours.

Interesting you bring this up, because it sort of ties in with another article I discovered via Scott Alexander's blog on the role of pathogens in shaping human cultures, particularly cultural differences between collectivism and individualism. (Edit: looking back on it now the tie is pretty tenuous but I think the article is interesting nonetheless).

The threat of disease is not uniform around the world. In general, higher, colder, and drier regions have fewer infectious diseases than warmer, wetter climates. To survive, people in this latter sort of terrain must withstand a higher degree of “pathogen stress.” Thornhill and his colleagues theorize that, over time, the pathogen stress endemic to a place tends to steer a culture in distinct ways. Research has long shown that people in tropical climates with high pathogen loads, for example, are more likely to develop a taste for spicy food, because certain compounds in these foods have antimicrobial properties. They are also prone to value physical attractiveness — a signal of health and “immunocompetence,” according to evolutionary theorists — more highly in mates than people living in cooler latitudes do. But the implications don’t stop there. According to the “pathogen stress theory of values,” the evolutionary case that Thornhill and his colleagues have put forward, our behavioral immune systems — our group responses to local disease threats — play a decisive role in shaping our various political systems, religions, and shared moral views.

If they are right, Thornhill and his colleagues may be on their way to unlocking some of the most stubborn mysteries of human behavior. Their theory may help explain why authoritarian governments tend to persist in certain latitudes while democracies rise in others; why some cultures are xenophobic and others are relatively open to strangers; why certain peoples value equality and individuality while others prize hierarchical structures and strict adherence to tradition. What’s more, their work may offer a clear insight into how societies change. According to Thornhill’s findings, striking at the root of infectious disease threats is by far the most effective form of social engineering available to any would-be reformer.


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Over the last few years, an increasing number of papers from other social scientists have backed the theory. While many of these researchers work with the same large data sets and long timescales that Fincher and Thornhill study, others have figured out ways to tease out the behavioral immune response in real time, on a smaller scale. Schaller and his colleagues, for example, set up a test to see if disease cues could influence laboratory subjects’ opinions of foreigners. Schaller’s team had one group of subjects watch a slideshow about germs and disease while another group watched a show about everyday accidents and dangers. The researchers then told the subjects that the Canadian government was going to spend money to attract immigrants to the country. As Schaller predicted, the test subjects who had been cued with the disease presentation were less inclined to spend money to attract people from unfamiliar countries.


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Thornhill grew up in Alabama in the 1940s and ’50s. He says he witnessed firsthand the rank sexism, racism, and xenophobia that was rampant in the South during that period. And he is well acquainted with the region’s strong family ties and firm religious beliefs. But he is also aware of a somewhat lesser known set of facts about his native soil. Around the time of his childhood, Southern states were finally getting a hold on a pair of diseases that had long plagued the region: malaria and hookworm. These diseases, writes Peter Hotez, the founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University, had turned generations of Southerners into “anemic, weak, and unproductive children and adults.” Not surprisingly, Thornhill believes that the collectivism of the old South — the adherence to tradition, ethnocentrism, and suspicion of outsiders that marked his childhood — stemmed from its historically high pathogen load.

Pretty good long-ish read. The basic thesis is that a lot of collectivist and xenophobic cultures could have arisen in areas with a high level of pathogen stress, where being less welcoming to strangers was evolutionarily advantageous.

Also, as an aside, this thread might as well be opened up to encompass biological determinants of social phenomenon more broadly. Perhaps a kind mod would be willing to change the thread title? :D
 

QuickTwist

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QuickTwist

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The next time someone tells you about their religious beliefs, try convincing them their firmly held convictions spring from an unconscious disease-avoidance mechanism. Or, alternatively, try telling a liberal acquaintance that their beliefs about openness and inclusion are only as deep as the good luck that has allowed them to live in a relatively disease-free zone.

Got a kick out of reading this.

Higher temperatures, elevated sea levels, and increased precipitation in some areas — all predicted to accompany climate change — are expected to bring tropical diseases to higher latitudes and elevations in the coming decades. Pathogens that once perished in cold climates and dry soils may find new congenial zones of heat and moisture, and new host populations. Incidents of dengue fever in the U.S., for example, are expected to spread beyond Hawaii and the Mexican borderlands as climate change creates expanding habitats for the mosquito that carries the virus. Unless effective health interventions ward off these new threats, humans in ever higher latitudes may again have to resort to their embedded psychological and cultural defenses. Collectivist group behaviors may yet stage a comeback.

Really glad they covered this cuz I was thinking about it through half the article.
 
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