Could Minor Physical Defects Lead to Violent Behavior in Teens?
June 21, 2000 -- Could the potential for violent behavior be programmed into
a person from birth? And could it be possible to screen children for violence
risk factors, so as to begin early interventions to prevent them from becoming
violent in the first place? Those are among the questions raised by a new study
Louise Arsenault, PhD, a University of Montreal researcher, says that she
and her colleagues may have been able to show that problems during development
of babies in the womb may lead to both minor physical defects and brain damage.
This brain damage is believed to increase the risk for violent behavior.
But one expert who spoke to WebMD is not sure these findings have any value
right now for use in the general community.
Arsenault looked at a large population of adolescent boys in Montreal, who
had been followed since kindergarten. She and fellow researchers assessed the
boys' delinquent and violent tendencies in their adolescent years by using
questionnaires and police crime reports. They also looked at minor physical
defects in these boys. Arsenault is now a visiting researcher at the Institute
of Psychiatry in London.
She looked at the boys' mouths, ears, eyes, heads, hands, and feet. Very
minor physical abnormalities were noted, such as a high, pointed palate; a
furrowed tongue; asymmetrical ears; low-set ears; electric, fine hair; a single
crease in the palm; and a big gap between the toes.
The researchers found that out of a group of 170 teen boys, those who
exhibited violent delinquent behaviors tended to have more physical defects
than those who were not violent -- especially abnormalities of the mouth. This
could suggest that abnormalities of the mouth are closely associated with brain
defects that lead to the higher risk of violence.
"I think that this paper would be useful with doctors, nurses, [and]
teachers who could identify the kids at risk at a very early age,"
Arsenault tells WebMD. She also says that if these abnormalities are associated
with fetal development, perhaps better maternal care might have an impact. But
her research does not recommend any specific programs.
Charlotte Hobbs, MD, PhD, believes this may be a giant leap to make from
these still-speculative findings. Hobbs, co-director of the Arkansas Center for
Birth Defects, Research, and Prevention at Arkansas Children's Hospital in
Little Rock, says Arsenault's findings provide more questions than answers.
She cautions against taking the findings as anything but an interesting
theory. "To me it's a scary thing if we start thinking violent behavior in
youth is something" people are born with, she tells WebMD. Before the idea
is accepted, she says, she would like to see more medical studies that say the