Genetic and Environmental Roots for Antisocial BehaviorA new area of study incorporates a multi-disciplinary view of biosocial factors that can influence criminal and anti-social actions.

Criminiologist Dr. Brian Boutwell, an assistant professor at Sam Houston State University, is using the new research strategy to hone in on the root causes of criminal and antisocial behavior.

“Biosocial research is a multi-disciplinary way of studying antisocial behavior,” said Boutwell. “It involves aspects of behavioral genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and developmental psychology. Additionally, it incorporates different analytical techniques and research methods to examine criminal and antisocial behaviors.”

Although environmental effects have been viewed as having a significant influence on behavior, biological factors are also important. But incorporating biology into the study of criminal behaviors remains in its infancy and on the fringes of criminology.

This new approach has been used by Boutwell and colleagues to examine corporal punishment, rape, stalking and IQ. In one study, recently published in the journal Aggressive Behavior, Boutwell examined the relationship between genetic risk factors for antisocial behavior and the use of corporal punishment in childhood.

While prior research has linked the use of corporal punishment with aggression, psychopathology, and criminal involvement, Boutwell explores why not all children who are spanked develop such tendencies.

In the study, Boutwell and his co-authors suggest that genetic risk factors conditioned the effects of spanking on antisocial behavior. That is, children who possessed a genetic predisposition for antisocial behavior appeared to be most susceptible to the negative influences of spanking.

Interestingly, this gene-environment interaction appeared to be especially important for male participants and not female children in the sample.

The researchers also examined the link between one group of offenders and rape. Investigators discovered a small segment of the population known to be chronically aggressive—termed life-course persistent offenders—are significantly more likely to rape, and do so repeatedly over their lifetime.

Based on these findings and prior research, the study suggests that the origins of rape, in part, may be genetic although investigators say more studies are needed to test this link.

Another ongoing study is examining the genetic and environmental correlates of stalking while other research interests include the link between genetics, antisocial behavior and intelligence. Findings to date suggest a link between the genetic risk factors that corresponded to increased antisocial behavior and decreased cognitive functioning.

Source: Sam Houston State University

Angry young man photo by shutterstock.