MAOA : How to make a warrior?

The MAOA allele, amid significant controversy, has become a key to deciphering what it truly means to be human.

Written by: Eileen Hahn

Art by: Wenanlan Jin


The deliberation of the influence of nature and nurture has been debated for centuries. First, by Greek philosophers, such as Galen of Pergamon, who debated the cause of human action and behavior by contemplating the level of certain “fluids” in the body, then by the likes of Sir Francis Galton, who first coined the term “nature-nurture”. Galton argued that hereditary was the main contributor to intelligence and other traits. Contrary to this, John Locke posed the idea of the tabula rasa, suggesting that we are all born as a blank slate, and all our experiences make us who we are.

Recently, the area of epigenetics (the study of gene and protein synthesis) has emerged to aid in bringing evidence to this debate. Thanks to innovation in analysing our biology, science allows us to dig deeper into this kaleidoscope of variables that make us who we are, and a new field which has taken advantage of this growing technology is criminology.

Criminology assesses a wide range of variables to predict why people commit crimes. A major finding in this field was the discovery of the potential link of the MAOA allele to anti-social behavior. The MAOA allele, also commonly known as the “warrior gene”, codes for an enzyme called monoamine oxidase A which can act as a neurotransmitter. A variety of studies have concluded that if an individual has this allele, and has had a traumatic childhood of abuse and neglect, they are more likely to display anti-social behavior and hence commit crime.

The key thing to mention here is that with certain genes, individuals can be predisposed to certain tendencies. However, they are not all bound by their genetics. Certain people in these studies expressed this MAOA allele, but did not have a criminal record or showed aggressive behavior.

Scientists have many qualms when researching the MAOA allele. Due to the nature of science, it relies mainly on the philosophy of determinism. This branch of philosophy believes that any events are a consequence of previously existing causes. In this case, it involves arguing that genetics make up the main reason as to why we do things. This could be why the influence of nature and nurture is so widely disputed. The implications of researching this can lead to a new age of discrimination. Furthermore, the terminology used in studies makes it difficult to measure the levels of environmental influence. It is arduous to find the line between being affected or not by the adverse situation.

In conclusion, the study of the biological and environmental influence on human morality and behavior is an endless task. Nevertheless, the small steps we take to acquire a better understanding of its origins are imperative to benefit society. Not everyone falls into a statistic and therefore it is ambitious to say that there is a hard and fast rule for certain human behaviours. Most importantly, nature and nurture do not exist independently: they both influence each other, and hence studies can encounter difficulties. So, although we are able to understand that there are certain genetic links to moral behavior, how people are brought up must also come into consideration.

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