Can Domestic Violence Be Hereditary?

Many debate the classic psychology question of nature vs. nurture. There are many behaviors, habits and preferences that are explained by either a matter of genetic disposition or are learned from the environment. This type of debate exists because even as genetic mapping becomes clearer there is an inexplicable connection between the overlap of nature and nurture, making it difficult to discern when one ends and the other begins. When faced with awful behavior like domestic violence those aggressors and victims demand to make sense of such a heinous act.

At the crux of trying to find the reason for this type of negative behavior, many proponents of the nature theory believe that specific genes based on heredity spark the behavior. Although discoveries have supported this, many combine the nurture theory in a way that those with specific gene commonalities have similarities of violent behavior as a reaction to stressful environments. These people understand this as a reason to why some individuals raised in a violent neighborhood become productive healthy members of society, while others repeat the behavior throughout their own lives. The specific gene was identified by a team at the University of North Carolina as per this article published by Reuters – Study finds genetic link to violence, delinquency . This type of principle might be a cause of the domestic violence epidemic.

Those that do not want to entertain any connection between domestic violence and heredity often refrain because these explanations tend to remove some responsibility from the aggressor. The concept of accountability demands that those that commit a harmful behavior are accountable for their actions. If a gene is causing an individual to act a certain way, some question if that person should be fully responsible. This question raises the notion that decisions people make are based in genetics and not free will – it would be like simply faulting a short person for causing a car accident because they could not see the same vantage point that a taller person would have seen. It is almost as if factors like this, outside of our control, are not relevant to understand the cause of actions and behaviors.

Although a tendency to commit violent acts might be identifiable in a gene, the heredity discussion switches gears when exposure, at a young age, to violent acts imprints the likelihood to repeat the violence. This crosses the line more to the nurture concept, that behavior can be learned and caused by exposure to certain environments. There has been tremendous research on this topic as well as some compelling studies from State University College of Criminal Justice and Colorado State University. Research involving those who have experienced partner violence, revealed that 80 percent had adult children involved in household abuse. These findings are reported by Molly Kenny’s article, titled Domestic Violence Study Finds Partner Abuse Is Generational. The results from the study were presented at the American Society of Criminology in Atlanta, some of those interesting points are as follows.

Based on a group of 1,600 families, 92 percent revealed that they were guilty of one event of domestic violence – from physical acts to verbal threats. From that same group 75 percent said that they committed a harmful act on their partner. Shockingly, 20 percent have unfortunately been guilty of multiple acts. What was even more unfortunate was that 63 percent of those adult children suffered acts of domestic violence.

These numbers clearly demonstrate that there is a cycle that occurs, illustrating the power of growing up with exposure to violent acts. There are many personality traits that might be enhanced or suppressed in the presence of this type of violence and the cycle repeats as a natural progression. It might be easier to understand this as children reliving the acts of their parents – if Dad had Sunday BBQs watching football then the son is ingrained in the fact that being a man means having Sunday BBQs while watching a football game. This can be the same type of mimic when a son witnesses his father hit his mother. Unfortunately, the results can be generational and suggest that when harmful behavior is caused by mirroring behavior, those actions have the potential to affect the lives of many people.

The bottom line is that studies and science can agree on one thing, this behavior is not positive and many young impressionable kids exposed to it just repeat behavior they witness – studies have been clear on both ends. The key to comprehending the unfortunate reality is that those exposed to it should be aware of the findings, so that hopefully with more education and understand they can avoid repeating negative behaviors.

Those facing charges for domestic violence in Southern California are encouraged to contact the domestic violence defense attorneys at MacGregor & Collins, LLP for a free case evaluation. Their Orange County team can help you to identify options and make informed decisions.

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