Research Project

Neeha Pathan, Biology

Advisor: Paul Manowitz, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

This project bridges biological studies and criminal justice literature to elucidate the mechanisms by which abuse suffered in childhood can induce violent behavior in the victim as an adult through a criminal justice lens. Few researchers have attempted to isolate the specific biological impacts of child abuse and then critically evaluate their impact on a victim’s future. This review aims to address that gap. Multiple searches of the PubMed database were conducted, and the results analyzed, to first isolate resultant biological alterations in humans following abuse. One of the most prominent alterations uncovered in this first phase was research, changes to the function of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, was then further studied in relation to aggression in adults.The clear majority of literature reviewed supported the notion of a link between abuse, an altered HPA axis, and violent or criminal tendencies in an adult. Even with the establishment of this potential link, courts are divided on whether behavioral genetic evidence can and/or should be used. Continually, though this form of evidence has been increasingly used, though still sparingly, in the court of law, it has largely failed to impact legal outcomes. This project concludes with suggestions that the use of behavioral genetics be more strictly regulated in court in an attempt to strengthen its claims.