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Genes can't always be blamed for bad behaviour

5th October 2010

Former doctor and author Theodore Dalrymple says a report suggesting ADHD is gene related will be seized on as a ready excuse for bad behaviour.

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We are being asked to believe that children who behave badly do so because of genetic inheritance.

It is true that some children suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and probably of organic and neurological origin.

But conditions diagnosed purely by observation and reports of behaviour, without any clear biological marker, tend to spread through a population.

This was the case with depression, a condition now so common that it seems to have effectively banished the word “unhappiness” from the language.

A problem with this approach is that it encourages the hope of a quick and easy solution - blame it on the DNA and hope that one day genetic engineering will solve the problem.

While there are cases where this may offer hope, human behaviour is very rarely the result of genes alone – culture and environment are factors.

It also seems that parents have lost this awareness that concentration and self-discipline do not come naturally to children, and have to be taught, even enforced.

Children will not learn these things by themselves but they are increasingly being left to do so.

The tragedy of this latest report is that the rumour of a genetic causation of inattention will spread through the population.

It will let people off the hook as far as own responsibility is concerned – “it wasn’t Johnny who didn't do his homework; it was his genes.”

 

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