Genetics and Crime: Integrating New Genomic Discoveries Into Psychological Research About Antisocial Behavior

Psychological Science
Jasmin WertzTerrie E Moffitt


Drawing on psychological and sociological theories of crime causation, we tested the hypothesis that genetic risk for low educational attainment (assessed via a genome-wide polygenic score) is associated with criminal offending. We further tested hypotheses of how polygenic risk relates to the development of antisocial behavior from childhood through adulthood. Across the Dunedin and Environmental Risk (E-Risk) birth cohorts of individuals growing up 20 years and 20,000 kilometers apart, education polygenic scores predicted risk of a criminal record with modest effects. Polygenic risk manifested during primary schooling in lower cognitive abilities, lower self-control, academic difficulties, and truancy, and it was associated with a life-course-persistent pattern of antisocial behavior that onsets in childhood and persists into adulthood. Crime is central in the nature-nurture debate, and findings reported here demonstrate how molecular-genetic discoveries can be incorporated into established theories of antisocial behavior. They also suggest that improving school experiences might prevent genetic influences on crime from unfolding.


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