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Editor,—The annotation by Professor Graham on violence in children fails to address the wide body of literature that has looked at the biological basis for violence and crime, and seems to concentrate almost exclusively on the psychosocial basis.1
While a psychosocial component of violence cannot be refuted, there is increasing evidence from many authors, including Farrington2 and Moffit in the Dunedin Study3that there is a strong biological component in many situations and especially that the early onset of hyperactivity and conduct disorder makes recurrent offending and ongoing violence extremely likely. There is further confirmation of this from Wall in Australia recently.4
The one line mention of a possible biological basis for crime does a great disservice to the many children, adolescents, and adults who have suffered because of the under-recognition of this fact. There is increasing evidence that a significant percentage of current offenders have such a biological basis, aggravated by the environment in which they live.
It would be a shame if this information was not made available to your readers as the evidence for there being a biologically based disorder of neurological function, which can be successfully managed, and which predisposes to violence and crime, is beyond dispute and well beyond mere personal bias.
Professor Graham comments:
The reason why so little attention in my annotation was given to biological factors in the causation of violence and crime is that there is a lack of evidence to suggest they are of more than minor importance. Indeed, in neither of the two important investigations cited by Dr Kewley (the Cambridge and Dunedin studies) were biological factors measured. In the article by Farrington that Dr Kewley quotes, the author explicitly states ‘The major risk factors for delinquency include poverty, poor housing, and living in public housing in inner city, socially disorganized communities...’ After mentioning as relevant various poor parental child rearing techniques, Farrington adds that other risk factors include impulsivity and low intelligence and attainment (‘which may reflect a poor ability to manipulate abstract concepts and deficits in the “executive functions of the brain”’). The emphasis given to biological factors in Farrington’s review is closely similar to that in my annotation. I do agree with Dr Kewley that attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder has an important biological component, and that it is a risk factor for later conduct disorder and delinquency. The importance of the hyperkinetic syndrome as a risk factor is clearly stated in my annotation.
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