TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Genes trump environment as the primary reason that some adolescents are more likely than others to be victimized by crime, according to groundbreaking research led by distinguished criminologist Kevin M. Beaver of The Florida State University.
The study is believed to be the first to probe the genetic basis of victimization.
The idea of a genetic basis for victimization is highly plausible. Some muscular, tall, with fast reflexes, the ability to run fast, with an alpha dominant personality is a lot less likely to get messed with. Lots of personality traits which partial genetic bases influence one's willingness to put one at risk.
"Victimization can appear to be a purely environmental phenomenon, in which people are randomly victimized for reasons that have nothing to do with their genes," said Beaver, an assistant professor in FSU's nationally top-10-ranked College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. "However, because we know that genetically influenced traits such as low self control affect delinquent behavior, and delinquents, particularly violent ones, tend to associate with antisocial peers, I had reasons to suspect that genetic factors could influence the odds of someone becoming a victim of crime, and these formed the basis of our study."
Beaver analyzed a sample of identical and same-sex fraternal twins drawn from a large, nationally representative sample of male and female adolescents interviewed in 1994 and 1995 for the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. "Add Health" interviewers had gathered data on participants that included details on family life, social life, romantic relationships, extracurricular activities, drug and alcohol use, and personal victimization.
The data convinced Beaver that genetic factors explained a surprisingly significant 40 to 45 percent of the variance in adolescent victimization among the twins, while non-shared environments (those environments that are not the same between siblings) explained the remaining variance. But among adolescents who were victimized repeatedly, the effect of genetic factors accounted for a whopping 64 percent of the variance.
Kids at genetic risk of victimization are at much greater risk if they live in higher crime areas. Parents ought to consider the personalities and physiques of their kids when deciding where to live.
It is not all down to genes. But genes play a big role.
"However, we're not suggesting that victimization occurs because a gene is saying 'Okay, go get victimized,' or solely because of genetic factors," Beaver said. "All traits and behaviors result from a combination of genes and both shared and non-shared environmental factors."
When offspring genetic engineering becomes possible and the alleles for lowering crime victimization risks become known some parents eager to give their children every edge will choose genes that cut risks that their children will become victims.
Update: Here's a study that complements the one above: first graders with depression are more likely to get beat on.
Children entering first grade with signs of depression and anxiety or excessive aggression are at risk of being chronically victimized by their classmates by third grade. That's the finding of a new longitudinal study that appears in the May/June 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Victoria, looked at more than 400 Canadian children beginning in the autumn of first grade. The children were asked about their experiences being bullied (such as being hit, pushed, and shoved, or being teased and excluded from play). Their teachers were asked to report on the children's symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as on their displays of physical aggression. The researchers returned at the end of first, second, and third grades, at which time they asked the children and their teachers to report on the same issues.
Most children (73 percent) showed few symptoms of depression and anxiety over the three years. But 7 percent of the children showed continuously high levels. The remaining 20 percent showed moderate symptoms at first, but these increased over time. Victimization by depressed and anxious children wasn't evident until third grade.
So then Prozac might reduce bullying.