Terrie E. Moffitt is Professor of Social Behavior and Development at the Institute of Psychiatry of King’s College London and Knut Schmidt Nielson Professor and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Psychiatry & Behavioral Science at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Science & Policy. Dr. Moffitts research into antisocial behavior, depression, and levels of violence has focused on the interplay between nature and nurture. Her research on the role of genetics in violent behavior has changed the way the world thinks about criminal intent and responsibility. While scientists had identified common illnesses present in violent individuals, they found no clear pattern to identify individuals at risk of exhibiting violent behavior. In 2002 Dr. Moffitt and her colleagues presented research on a genetic predisposition to low expression of an enzyme, Monoamine Oxidase A, which regulates major neurotransmitters at the synapses of the brain’s neurons. Moffitt’s research found that levels of violent behavior were higher in individuals who both showed low expression of Monoamine Oxidase A and suffered abuse during childhood. This combination of nature and nurture has drastically changed the way practitioners think about criminality, spurring interest in finding more humane means of crime prevention among abused children at risk for future violence.
Moffitt’s work has brought awareness of genetic and environmental interactions that were new to psychiatry and neuroscience. She is the associate director of the widely-cited Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study in New Zealand, which has identified patterns of intimate as well as stranger crime, shedding light in particular on the role of women as initiators of violence. Concurrently, Moffitt is carrying out a large-scale follow-up of twins in the UK to study biological, psychological, and social influences on development. She received the 2007 Stockholm Prize in Criminology for research on the development of criminal behavior over the life-course of individuals. Her focus on entire population cohorts, including people who have never committed crimes, led to the discovery of “adolescent-limited” versus “life-course persistent” offenders. In 2008, she authored “Elevated inflammation levels in depressed adults with history of childhood maltreatment” and in 2007 coauthored “Nature, nurture, and the IQ: Genetic variations in fatty acid metabolism moderates the association between breastfeeding and children’s cognitive development.”