The heritability of antisocial behavior: A meta-analysis of twin and adoption studies

  • Dehryl A. Mason
  • Paul J. Frick
Article

Abstract

In this paper, we describe a quantitative summary of 12 twin (n=3795 twin pairs and 3 adoption studies=338 adoptees) published since 1975 which provided 21 estimates of the heritability of antisocial behavior. Medium to large effect sizes were found for genetic influences across studies, with approximately 50% of the variance in measures of antisocial behavior attributable to genetic effects. Although effect sizes did not vary across different definitions of antisocial behavior (criminality, aggression, or antisocial personality), significantly larger estimates of genetic effect were found for severe manifestations of antisocial behavior. The importance of severity was further underscored by the significantly larger effects obtained in studies using clinic-referred samples compared to the effects obtained in studies using volunteer samples. Demographic characteristics of the samples did not influence effect sizes, although studies using more stringent methodology tended to find larger effects. These results must be interpreted in light of the small literature that was suitable for the meta-analysis due to numerous methodological limitations in existing studies.

Key words

genetics antisocial behavior criminality aggression meta-analysis 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Appendix

  1. Baker, L. A., & Daniels, D. (1990). Nonshared environmental influences and personality differences in adult twins.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 103, 110.Google Scholar
  2. Centerwall, B. S., & Robinette, C. D. (1989). Twin concordance for dishonorable discharge from the military: With a review of the genetics of antisocial behavior.Comprehensive Psychiatry, 30, 442–446.Google Scholar
  3. Cloninger, C. R., Christiansen, K. O., Reich, T., & Gottesman, I. I. (1978). Implications of sex differences in the prevalences of antisocial personality, alcoholism, and criminality for familial transmission.Archives of General Psychiatry, 35, 941–951.Google Scholar
  4. Dworkin, R. H., Burke, B. W., & Maher, B. A. (1976). A longitudinal study of the genetics of personality.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 510–518.Google Scholar
  5. Ghodsian-Carpey, J., & Baker, L. A. (1987). Genetic and environmental influences on aggression in 4- to 7-year-old twins.Aggressive Behavior, 13, 173–186.Google Scholar
  6. Hutchings, B., & Mednick, S. A. (1975). Registered criminality in the adoptive and biological parents of registered male criminal adoptees. In Fieve, R. R., Rosenthal, D., & Brill, H. (Eds.),Genetic Research in Psychiatry (pp. 94–103). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Jary, M. L., & Stewart, M. A. (1985). Psychiatric disorder in the parents of adopted children with aggressive conduct disorder.Neuropsychobiology, 13, 7–11.Google Scholar
  8. Lytton, H., Watts, D., & Dunn, B. E. (1988). Stability of genetic determination from age 2 to age 9: A longitudinal twin study.Social Biology, 35, 62–73.Google Scholar
  9. Mattes, J. A., & Fink, M. (1990). A controlled family study of adopted patients with temper outbursts.Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 178, 138–139.Google Scholar
  10. O'Connor, M., Foch, T., Sherry, T., & Plomin, R. (1980). A twin study of specific behavioral problems of socialization as viewed by parents.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 8, 189–199.Google Scholar
  11. Plomin, R., Foch, T. T., & Rowe, D. C. (1981). Bobo clown aggression in childhood: Environment, not genes.Journal of Research in Personality, 15, 331–342.Google Scholar
  12. Rowe, D. C. (1983). Biometrical genetic models of self-reported delinquent behavior: A twin study.Behavior Genetics, 13, 473–489.Google Scholar
  13. Rushton, J. P., Fulker, D. W., Neale, M. C., Nias, D. K. B., & Eysenck, H. J. (1986). Altruism and aggression: The heritability of individual differences.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 1192–1198.Google Scholar
  14. Stevenson, J., & Graham, P. (1988). Behavioral deviance in 13-year-old twins: An item analysis.Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 791–797.Google Scholar
  15. Tellegen, A., Lykken, D. T., Bouchard, T. J., Wilcox, K. J., Segal, N. L., & Rich, S. (1988). Personality similarity in twins reared apart and together.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1031–1039.Google Scholar

References

  1. Adler, T. (1992). Violence research comes under attack.APA Monitor, Dec., 1, 18.Google Scholar
  2. Bohman, M., Cloninger, C. R., Sigvardsson, S., & von Knorring, A. L. (1982). Predisposition to petty criminality in Swedish adoptees.Archives of General Psychiatry, 39, 1242–1247.Google Scholar
  3. Cadoret, R. J., Troughton, E., O'Gorman, T. W., & Heywood, E. (1986). An adoption study of genetic and environmental factors in drug abuse.Archives of General Psychiatry, 43, 1131–1136.Google Scholar
  4. Cloninger, C. R., Christiansen, K. O., Reich, T., & Gottesman, I. I. (1978). Implications of sex differences in the prevalences of antisocial personality, alcoholism, and criminality for familial transmission.Archives of General Psychiatry, 35, 941–951.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, J. (1977).Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences, rev. ed. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  6. Crowe, R. R. (1975). An adoptive study of psychopathy: Preliminary results from arrest records and psychiatric hospital records. In R. R. Fieve, D. Rosenthal, & H. Brill (Eds.),Genetic research in psychiatry (pp. 95–103). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  7. DiLalla, L. F., & Gottesman, I. I. (1991). Biological and genetic contributors to violence—Widom's untold tale.Psychological Bulletin, 109, 125–129.Google Scholar
  8. Eaves, L. J., Silberg, J. L., Hewitt, J. K., Rutter, M., Meyer, J. M., Neale, M. C., & Pickles, A. (1993). Analyzing twin resemblance in multisymptom data: Genetic applications of a latent class model for symptoms of conduct disorder in juvenile boys.Behavior Genetics, 23, 5–19.Google Scholar
  9. Falconer, D. S. (1981).Introduction to quantitative genetics. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  10. Frick, P. J. (1994). Family dysfunction and the disruptive behavior disorders: A review of recent empirical findings. In T. H. Ollendick & R. J. Prinz (Eds.),Advances in clinical child (Vol. 16, pp. 203–226. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  11. Ghodsian-Carpey, J., & Baker, L. A. (1987). Genetic and environmental influences on aggression in 4- to 7-year-old twins.Aggressive Behavior, 13, 173–186.Google Scholar
  12. Graham, P., & Stevenson, J. (1985). A twin study of genetic influences to behavioral deviance.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 24, 33–41.Google Scholar
  13. Hanson, C. L., Hennggeler, W. W., Haefle, W. F., & Rodick, J. D. (1984). Demographic, individual, and family relationship correlates of serious and repeated crime among adolescents and their siblings.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 52, 528–538.Google Scholar
  14. Hare, R. D., Hart, S. D., & Harpur, T. J. (1991). Psychopathy and the DSM-IV criteria for antisocial personality disorder.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100, 391–398.Google Scholar
  15. Huesmann, L. R., Eron, L. D., Lefkowitz, M. M., & Walder, L. O. (1984). Stability of aggression over time and generations.Developmental Psychology, 20, 1120–1134.Google Scholar
  16. Hutchings, B., & Mednick, S. A. (1975). Registered criminality in the adoptive and biological parents of registered male criminal adoptees. In R. R. Fieve, D. Rosenthal, & H. Brill (Eds.),Genetic Research in Psychiatry (pp. 94–103). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Kelso, J., & Stewart, M. A. (1986). Factors which predict the persistence of aggressive conduct disorder.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 77–86.Google Scholar
  18. Lahey, B. B., Loeber, R., Quay, H. C., Frick, P. J., & Grimm, J. (1992). Oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorders: Issues to be resolved for DSM-IV.Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 31, 539–546.Google Scholar
  19. Loeber, R. (1990). Development and risk factors of juvenile antisocial behavior and delinquency.Clinical Psychology Review, 10, 1–41.Google Scholar
  20. Loeber, R. (1991). Antisocial behavior: More enduring than changeable?Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 30, 393–397.Google Scholar
  21. Loeber, R., & Dishion, T. (1983). Early predictors of male delinquency: A review.Psychological Bulletin, 94, 68–94.Google Scholar
  22. Maurer, R., Cadoret, R. J., & Cain, C. (1980). Cluster analysis of childhood temperament data on adoptees.American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 50, 522–531.Google Scholar
  23. Mednick, S. A., & Kandel, E. S. (1988). Congenital determinants of violence.Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 16, 101–109.Google Scholar
  24. Mednick, S. A., Gabrielli, W. F., & Hutchings, B. (1984). Genetic influences in criminal convictions: Evidence from an adoption cohort.Science, 224, 891–894.Google Scholar
  25. Mednick, S. A., Moffitt, T., Gabrielli, W., & Hutchings, B. (1986). Genetic factors in criminal behavior. A review. In J. Block, D. Olweus, & M. R. Yarrow (Eds.),The development of antisocial and prosocial behavior (pp. 33–50). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  26. Mednick, S. A., Brennan, P., & Kandel, E. (1988). Predisposition to violence.Aggressive Behavior, 14, 25–33.Google Scholar
  27. Osborn, S. G., & West, D. J. (1979). Conviction records of fathers and sons compared.British Journal of Criminology, 19, 120–133.Google Scholar
  28. Patterson, G. R., Reid, J. B., & Dishion, T. J. (1992).Antisocial boys. Eugene, OR: Castalia.Google Scholar
  29. Plomin, R., Foch, T. T., & Rowe, D. C. (1981). Bobo clown aggression in childhood: Environment, not genes.Journal of Research in Personality, 15, 331–342.Google Scholar
  30. Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., & McClearn, G. E. (1990).Behavioral genetics: A primer (2nd ed). New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
  31. Plomin, R., Nitz, K., & Rowe, D. C. (1991). Behavioral genetics and aggressive behavior in childhood. In M. Lewis & S. M. Miller (Eds.),Handbook of developmental psychopathology (pp. 119–133). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  32. Robins, L. N. (1966).Deviant children grown up. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.Google Scholar
  33. Robins, L. N. (1991). Conduct disorder.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 193–212.Google Scholar
  34. Rosenthal, D. (1975). Heredity in criminality.Criminal Justice and Behavior, 2, 3–21.Google Scholar
  35. Rutter, M., Macdonald, H., Le Couteur, A., Harrington, R., Bolton, P., & Bailey, A. (1990). Genetic factors in child psychiatric disorders—II. Empirical findings.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31, 29–83.Google Scholar
  36. Stevenson, J., & Graham, P. (1988). Behavioral deviance in 13-year-old twins: An item analysis.Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 791–797.Google Scholar
  37. Stewart, M. A., & Wilcox, J. A. (1985). Childhood antecedents of alcoholism.Advances in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 6, 151–175.Google Scholar
  38. Tremblay, R. E., Loeber, R., Gagnon, C., Charlebois, P., Larivee, S., & LeBlanc, M. (1991). Disruptive boys with stable and unstable high fighting behavior patterns during junior elementary school.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 19, 285–300.Google Scholar
  39. Walters, G. D. (1992). A meta-analysis of the gene-crime relationship.Criminology, 30, 595–613.Google Scholar
  40. Wanous, J. P., Sullivan, S. E., & Malinak, J. (1989). The role of judgment calls in meta-analysis.Journal of Applied Psychology, 74, 259–264.Google Scholar
  41. Widom, C. S. (1991). A tail on an untold tale: Response to “Biological and Genetic Contributors to Violence—Widom's Untold Tale.”Psychological Bulletin, 109, 130–132.Google Scholar
  42. Wilson, H. (1975). Juvenile delinquency, parental criminality and social handicap.British Journal of Criminology, 15, 241–250.Google Scholar
  43. Wolf, F. M. (1986).Meta-analysis: Quantitative methods for research methods. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dehryl A. Mason
    • 1
  • Paul J. Frick
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosa

Personalised recommendations