Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi have opened up new perspectives on the interplay between genetic disposition and environmental influences in the development of children. In 2002, Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi published groundbreaking findings in the renowned journal Science regarding the complex interplay between genetic disposition and environmental influences in the development of antisocial behavior.
On the basis of data from a long-term study conducted in New Zealand, the two scientists were able to prove that the impact of genetic disposition is dependent on environmental influences. Men who were abused as children and who carried a specific version of the so-called MAOA gene exhibited a stronger tendency towards acts of violence. In contrast, men with a different version of the same gene were less likely to develop antisocial behavior, even when they had been abused as children.
This study acted as a catalyst for numerous further examinations of the interplay between genetic disposition and environmental factors. These British-Israeli researchers have thus dispelled the widespread belief in genetic determinism. They have been able to show how genetic effects on health and behavior are often dependent on environmental influences that are under human control.
This same focus also appears in other research areas of Moffitt and Caspi. They have developed a scientific classification of young offenders, illustrating that approximately 95 percent of all conspicuous criminological behavior remains restricted to adolescence and is thus treatable. Above and beyond this, they were also the first to provide evidence showing that around half of adults with psychological problems already had diagnosable disorders before they were 15 years old. It is therefore of great importance that programs for prevention and treatment are initiated in early childhood.
For their exceptional work, Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi are awarded the Klaus J. Jacobs Prize 2010.