Are Impulse Control, Crime, Poverty & Genes Connected?

Drawing by E. Wagele

Drawing by E. Wagele

People with poor impulse control have a hard time working for someone and keeping jobs. Sometimes they resort to crime. It’s possible that more poor people than well off people have poor impulse control. What’s surprising is that genes may play a big part in this difference.

Poverty itself makes a person’s ability to earn money difficult, but if the gene theory is true, perhaps something can be done about it. Perhaps ways can be found to diagnose poor impulse control in young children and improve their concentration. (have you seen The Marshmallow Test?)

Amir Sariaslan and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm published a study that showed teenagers who grew up in the bottom 5th of income were 7 times as likely to commit violent crimes and twice as likely to commit drug offenses as those in the top 5th. This study, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, included more than half a million children and took into account their family’s level of education, annual income, and criminal convictions.

Sariaslan and colleagues also studied children who were born into poor families that became more affluent. Children born into affluence were just as likely to misbehave as teenagers as their older siblings who were born poor. So family income was not the only determining factor.

Perhaps the younger children were imitating their older siblings’ behavior.

Perhaps, as several studies suggest, the genes responsible for poor impulse control occur at the bottom of society and are passed on from generation to generation. More research needs to be done in order to prove poor impulse control is inherited, however.

The article concludes by saying if these findings are confirmed by other research, they should not be ignored, even though they are uncomfortable.

The following are guesses of which Enneagram types have the most to the least impulse control (I wish someone would do a study of this):

1 I have rarely seen Perfectionists with poor impulse control. They usually work on accomplishing goals and don’t easily go off course.

5 Most Observers I know have good impulse control and are self-directed. They may lose their focus if their interest lags.

3 Being an Achiever isn’t consistent with having poor impulse control since they usually accomplish a lot.

4 Some Romantics are well organized and goal-oriented (wings 3 and 5 can help). Others, however, feel their lives are a mess and their impulse control is low.

6 Questioners vary, from those with good impulse control to those who easily become distracted by anxieties and worries. George Bush, probably a 6, may have had poor impulse control when he invaded Iraq.

9 Peace Seekers have a wide range of impulse control. Whether they have a stronger 8 or 1 wings often plays a part.

2 Often Helpers are influenced by their 1 and 3 wings (the Perfectionist and Achiever types), and have good impulse control. Some 2s become distracted by social needs and/or by a tendency to be codependent, however.

8 Asserters are often told to count to 10 in order to control their anger. John McEnroe, for example, didn’t control his temper while playing tennis. He had enough self-discipline, however, to become a tennis champion.

7 When Adventurers have trouble succeeding they have often succumbed to distractions because of poor impulse control.

See my Psychology Today blog of September 2 and 16 for Rust’s and Marty’s MBTIR and Enneagram types in “True Detective”. See wagele.com to check out my cartoons, essays, and books, including Are You My Type, Am I Yours?

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