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Abandon twin research? Embrace epigenetic research? Premature advice for criminologists

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Abstract

In their original article, Burt and Simons (2014) argued that heritability studies should be abandoned because twin and adoption research is a fatally flawed paradigm. They pointed optimistically to epigenetics research as the way forward. In our view, both recommendations are hasty. This commentary will put forward two contrarian opinions. First, twin and adoption studies still have a lot to offer criminologists who seek the social causes of crime. Second, epigenetics research has very little to offer yet for criminologists who seek the social causes of crime.

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... However, the particular way behavioral genetics has traditionally raised and answered those questions has been the subject of continuing controversy. Indeed, the pages of Criminology have hosted one of the latest instalments of this debate (Barnes et al. 2014;Burt & Simons 2014;Burt & Simons 2015;Moffitt & Beckely 2015;Wright et al. 2017), and we believe it is fair to say that it did not end in mutual understanding. ...
... The idea here is that social/environmental explanations of traits, typically in a within-family context, are subject to alternative explanations due to genetically inherited similarities. Here is an example, taken from Moffitt & Beckely (2015): suppose you want to test the social/environmental hypothesis that a mother's hostile parenting causes antisocial, aggressive behavior in her child. If you look at mother-child-dyads from different families and find that children of more hostile mothers display more aggressive behavior, you might be tempted to conclude in favor of your hypothesis. ...
... Twin designs, in particular "discordant twin designs", have been proposed as a solution to such confounding (Moffitt & Beckely 2015). The idea is to find MZ twins who are discordant for the trait of interest. ...
Preprint
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The concept of heritability in behavioral genetics is different from the more standard concept used in biology. The former is a statistical measure of the proportion of genetic variance relative to the total phenotypic variance of a trait in a population, the latter refers to the transmission of phenotypic traits across generations via the transmission of an underlying causal substrate (genes). It will be argued that the behavioral-genetic concept is a generally useless quantity, while the standard biological concept is overly narrow and implies a false picture of the significance of genes in development. By suitably expanding standard heritability into a general causal concept based on its role in evolution, we will arrive at a general view of development that recognizes the causal parity of all determinants of phenotypic traits and shows why the behavioral genetic dichotomy of genes vs environment is fundamentally misguided. Some implications for criminology and the social sciences will be addressed.
... This research largely comprises classical twin studies and adoption designs, capable of decomposing trait variance into that which is attributable to genetic variation from that which is attributable to environmental variation [2,3]. Twin studies still comprise a key research tool for scientists studying human behavior, since they act as quasi-experimental designs capable of holding constant shared genetic and family influences on a given phenotype [2,4]. However, behavioral scientists are also employing new genomic methods when studying the origins of human variation-in particular genome-wide association studies (GWAS), and the constituent tools that build off of their findings (e.g. ...
... Along with an increased use of GWAS, social scientists are showing increasing interest in genomic studies of gene regulation, and in particular, epigenetic influences on gene expression [4]. Like quantitative genetics mentioned above, this area is not new, as geneticists have long recognized the importance of understanding the role of gene expression in disease and human complex traits [5,6]. ...
... behavior). These changes in some cases may act as mediators of causal factors, or even spurious correlates [4]. That said, there are recent significant advances in the science of gene regulation as it relates to health and psychology. ...
Article
Virtually all human psychological and behavioral traits are at least partially heritable. For nearly a century, classical genetic studies have sought to understand how genetic variation contributes to human variation in these traits. More recently, genome wide association studies have identified large numbers of specific genetic variants linked with complex traits. Many of these variants fall outside of protein-coding genes, in putative gene regulatory elements. This suggests that some fraction of causal human genetic variation acts through gene regulation. New developments in the field of regulatory genomics offer resources and methods to understand how genetic variants that alter gene expression contribute to human psychology and risk for psychiatric disease.
... In addition, research on bullying has pointed to the importance of genetic factors in explaining the overlap between bullying perpetration and bullying victimization in children [5]. Although behavioral genetic methods have been a source of controversy in criminology [8,18,77], these provocative findings merit further replication efforts. ...
... Regardless of particular data-related issues, a past meta-analysis of antisocial behavior [102] implies that many more behavioral genetic studies will be needed before drawing firm conclusions about genetic and environmental effects on the victim-offender overlap. Speaking to the broader controversy of using a twin design [8,18,77], our results showed that twin designs in criminology are valuable for showing environmental effects. ...
Article
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PurposeIt is well-established that victims and offenders are often the same people, a phenomenon known as the victim-offender overlap, but the developmental nature of this overlap remains uncertain. In this study, we drew from a developmental theoretical framework to test effects of genetics, individual characteristics, and routine-activity-based risks. Drawing from developmental literature, we additionally tested the effect of an accumulation of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Methods Data came from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Study, a representative UK birth cohort of 2232 twins born in 1994–1995 and followed to age 18 (with 93% retention). Crime victimization and offending were assessed through self-reports at age 18 (but findings replicated using crime records). We used the classical twin study method to decompose variance in the victim-offender overlap into genetic and environmental components. We used logistic regression to test the effects of childhood risk factors. ResultsIn contrast to past twin studies, we found that environment (as well as genes) contributed to the victim-offender overlap. Our logistic regression results showed that childhood low self-control and childhood antisocial behavior nearly doubled the odds of becoming a victim-offender, compared to a victim-only or an offender-only. Each additional ACE increased the odds of becoming a victim-offender, compared to a victim-only or an offender-only, by approximately 12%, pointing to the importance of cumulative childhood adversity. Conclusions This study showed that the victim-offender overlap is, at least partially, developmental in nature and predictable from personal childhood characteristics and an accumulation of many adverse childhood experiences.
... Epigenetics is, unfortunately, unclearly defined in much of the literature, but generally refers to information transmitted during cell division "other than the DNA sequence per se" (Feinberg andFallin 2015, p. 1129; see also Ptashne 2013 for additional clarification regarding epigenetics). Many social scientists who use the term "epigenetics" are referring to transgenerational epigenetic effects that are induced by the external (and in particular, social) environment, and then passed transgenerationally from parent to offspring (Dickins and Rahman 2012;Moffitt and Beckley 2015). If such epigenetic effects are common, it is possible that two populations would diverge without genetic differentiation. ...
... If such epigenetic effects are common, it is possible that two populations would diverge without genetic differentiation. This is an important area of future research and is currently the topic of much research, hyperbole, and debate (see, e.g., Moffitt and Beckley 2015;Ptashne 2013). We hold the possibility of epigenetic effects accounting for some population differences and some instances of rapid evolution as an open hypothesis. ...
Article
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Many evolutionary psychologists have asserted that there is a panhuman nature, a species typical psychological structure that is invariant across human populations. Although many social scientists dispute the basic assumptions of evolutionary psychology, they seem widely to agree with this hypothesis. Psychological differences among human populations (demes, ethnic groups, races) are almost always attributed to cultural and sociological forces in the relevant literatures. However, there are strong reasons to suspect that the hypothesis of a panhuman nature is incorrect. Humans migrated out of Africa at least 50,000 years ago and occupied many different ecological and climatological niches. Because of this, they evolved slightly different anatomical and physiological traits. For example, Tibetans evolved various traits that help them cope with the rigors of altitude; similarly, the Inuit evolved various traits that help them cope with the challenges of a very cold environment. It is likely that humans also evolved slightly different psychological traits as a response to different selection pressures in different environments and niches. One possible example is the high intelligence of the Ashkenazi Jewish people. Frank discussions of such differences among human groups have provoked strong ethical concerns in the past. We understand those ethical concerns and believe that it is important to address them. However, we also believe that the benefits of discussing possible human population differences outweigh the costs.
... Epigenetics is, unfortunately, unclearly defined in much of the literature, but generally refers to information transmitted during cell division "other than the DNA sequence per se" (Feinberg andFallin 2015, p. 1129; see also Ptashne 2013 for additional clarification regarding epigenetics). Many social scientists who use the term "epigenetics" are referring to transgenerational epigenetic effects that are induced by the external (and in particular, social) environment, and then passed transgenerationally from parent to offspring (Dickins and Rahman 2012;Moffitt and Beckley 2015). If such epigenetic effects are common, it is possible that two populations would diverge without genetic differentiation. ...
... If such epigenetic effects are common, it is possible that two populations would diverge without genetic differentiation. This is an important area of future research and is currently the topic of much research, hyperbole, and debate (see, e.g., Moffitt and Beckley 2015;Ptashne 2013). We hold the possibility of epigenetic effects accounting for some population differences and some instances of rapid evolution as an open hypothesis. ...
Article
Full-text available
Many evolutionary psychologists have asserted that there is a panhuman nature, a species typical psychological structure that is invariant across human populations. Although many social scientists dispute the basic assumptions of evolutionary psychology, they seem widely to agree with this hypothesis. Psychological differences among human populations (demes, ethnic groups, races) are almost always attributed to cultural and sociological forces in the relevant literatures. However, there are strong reasons to suspect that the hypothesis of a panhuman nature is incorrect. Humans migrated out of Africa at least 50,000 years ago and occupied many different ecological and climatological niches. Because of this, they evolved slightly different anatomical and physiological traits. For example, Tibetans evolved various traits that help them cope with the rigors of altitude; similarly, the Inuit evolved various traits that help them cope with the challenges of a very cold environment. It is likely that humans also evolved slightly different psychological traits as a response to different selection pressures in different environments and niches. One possible example is the high intelligence of the Ashkenazi Jewish people. Frank discussions of such differences among human groups have provoked strong ethical concerns in the past. We understand those ethical concerns and believe that it is important to address them. However, we also believe that the benefits of discussing possible human population differences outweigh the costs.
... We account for the confounding influences of selection bias by leveraging a unique sample and a powerful methodological design that has been recognized for its ability to rule out a wide range of biasing influences: a family fixed-effects design. The family fixed-effects design has appeared in the literature under other names such as the "co-relative approach" (Kendler, 2017), "discordant twin design" (Moffitt & Beckley, 2015), "twin difference approach" (Nedelec & Silver, 2018), and "siblingcomparison analysis" (Connolly & Kavish, 2018). Regardless of the name, the design is implemented with the goal of adjusting for a wide range of potential confounds at the family level, factors such as the early rearing environment, neighborhood effects, and even genetic inheritance (Becker & Tomes, 1986;Heckman & Mosso, 2014). ...
... By focusing on within-twin pair differences, then, we were able to rule out the effects of these family environments and genetic influences, providing us the opportunity to glean some of the most precise estimates for the impact of justice system contact on future behavior. In doing so, we have demonstrated that twin samples and methods have utility for criminological theory testing that reaches beyond the typical strategy of estimating heritability (see Moffitt & Beckley, 2015). ...
Article
Full-text available
What impact does formal punishment have on antisocial conduct—does it deter or promote it? The findings from a long line of research on the labeling tradition indicate formal punishments have the opposite‐of‐intended consequence of promoting future misbehavior. In another body of work, the results show support for deterrence‐based hypotheses that punishment deters future misbehavior. So, which is it? We draw on a nationally representative sample of British adolescent twins from the Environmental Risk (E‐Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study to perform a robust test of the deterrence versus labeling question. We leverage a powerful research design in which twins can serve as the counterfactual for their co‐twin, thereby ruling out many sources of confounding that have likely impacted prior studies. The pattern of findings provides support for labeling theory, showing that contact with the justice system—through spending a night in jail/prison, being issued an anti‐social behaviour order (ASBO), or having an official record—promotes delinquency. We conclude by discussing the impact these findings may have on criminologists’ and practitioners’ perspective on the role of the juvenile justice system in society.
... studies from using certain types of genetic methodologies (Barnes et al., 2014b;Moffitt & Beckley, 2015), despite the fact that these methodologies have been employed in thousands of studies and have been shown to produce highly accurate and replicable results (Barnes, Boutwell, Beaver, Gibson, & Wright, 2014a;Moffitt & Beckley, 2015). The end result of such antagonism toward, and censorship of, genetic research in criminology is that the application of genetic research to other outcomes has been somewhat stifled. ...
... studies from using certain types of genetic methodologies (Barnes et al., 2014b;Moffitt & Beckley, 2015), despite the fact that these methodologies have been employed in thousands of studies and have been shown to produce highly accurate and replicable results (Barnes, Boutwell, Beaver, Gibson, & Wright, 2014a;Moffitt & Beckley, 2015). The end result of such antagonism toward, and censorship of, genetic research in criminology is that the application of genetic research to other outcomes has been somewhat stifled. ...
Chapter
During the past decade or so, a tremendous amount of criminological research has been produced examining the biosocial underpinnings to a broad range of criminal behaviors and criminogenic traits. At the same time, however, there has not been a widespread and concerted effort to examine systematically the role—if any—genetic influences might play in the creation of personal victimization. The overarching goal of this chapter is to synthesize the literature that has examined the genetic architecture of victimization. To do so, we divide the chapter into three sections. First, we discuss behavioral genetic research and provide an overview of some key findings and the main methodologies employed in these studies. Second, we review studies that have estimated the extent to which genetic influences might be related to the odds of being victimized. Third, we provide a brief discussion of how the results of behavior genetic studies could be incorporated into certain mainstream theories of victimization. Our hope is that this chapter will inspire more research and theoretical development charting out the various ways in which genetic influences might be connected to victimization experiences, and how the accumulation of such knowledge could be used to help reduce personal victimization.
... Another focus for us has been using our UK twin cohort to compare twins who have different crime-relevant life experiences. This use of twins rules out any and all criminogenic aspects of rearing background and genetics that are shared by siblings, to bring social scientists that bit closer to causal inference (Moffitt and Beckley 2015). Comparing siblings is a favored method in economics and medical research and should be more widely used in Criminology too. ...
... Optimal means of studying genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences in behavior include twin and adoption designs (J. C. Barnes et al., 2014;DiLalla & Gottesman, 1991;Massey, 2015;Moffitt & Beckley, 2015;J. P. Wright et al., 2015). ...
Article
Children whose parents exhibit criminal behavior (CB) appear to have an increased risk of displaying CB themselves. We conducted a systematic review and pooled results from 23 samples in 25 publications (including 3,423,483 children) in this meta-analysis of intergenerational transmission of CB. On average, children with criminal parents were at significantly higher risk for CB compared with children without criminal parents (pooled OR = 2.4). Studies taking into account covariates also showed increased risk for CB (pooled OR = 1.8). Transmission was strongest from mothers to daughters, followed by mothers to sons, fathers to daughters, and fathers to sons. Moreover, transmission appeared stronger for cohorts born after 1981. When we examined methodological quality and other characteristics of studies, response rates, sample size, or use of official records vs. self- or other-reports of parental CB did not moderate outcomes. However, we found stronger transmission for samples that used convenience or case-control sampling, and in studies in which parental CB clearly preceded offspring CB. We discuss mechanisms underlying intergenerational transmission, including social learning, criminogenic environments, biological proneness, and criminal justice bias. Finally, we consider limitations and directions for future research as well as policy implications for breaking the cycle of intergenerational crime.
... With respect to between-and within-twin-pair effects, the between-twin-pair regression coefficient ( B ) examines whether pairs of twins with, on average, higher levels of late adolescent intimate partner violence report higher levels of depressive symptomology in young adulthood, while the within-twin-pair regression coefficient ( W ) examines whether the twin with higher levels of intimate partner victimization has higher levels of depressive symptomology compared to their co-twin (Carlin et al. 2005;Schaefer et al. 2018). This final step of the analysis focused on using what Moffitt and Beckley (2015) have called "one of criminology's few options for disentangling selection effects from social causation effects" (p. 122) to assess whether intimate partner victimization has an environmental effect on depressive symptoms. ...
Article
Full-text available
Objectives While a wealth of research reports a robust association between intimate partner victimization and depression, the relationship has not been tested using twin-based research designs to control for unmeasured genetic and shared environmental confounding.Methods Twin data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health are analyzed to test the causal hypothesis that intimate partner victimization increases depressive symptoms across the life course. A series of twin-based research methodologies are used to examine whether twin differences in intimate partner victimization during late adolescence are associated with differences in depressive symptoms in young adulthood.ResultsMales and females did not significantly differ in their prevalence or frequency of reported intimate partner victimization during late adolescence. Genetic and nonshared environmental effects were found to account for the covariance between intimate partner victimization and depressive symptoms. After controlling for common genetic effects, within-twin pair differences in intimate partner victimization were positively associated with within-twin pair differences in depressive symptomatology.Conclusions The results offer further support for the mental health consequences associated with intimate partner victimization and help strengthen causal inference arguments for the relationship between intimate partner victimization and depressive symptoms later in life.
... We should be cautious when considering the state of current research in epigenetics and psychopathology, in particular methylation studies, since this is a developing field that must contend with a number of limitations. Moffitt and Beckley (2015) list some of them, namely (1) The small environmental effect size expected on the methylation pattern, which is predominantly determined by the programming of cellular differentiation, (2) The specificity of the methylation patterns of each tissue and cell population, (3) Our current ignorance of the most dynamic regions and those with the most sensitivity to the social environment, (4) The need for new statistical approaches and laboratory techniques for processing whole epigenome data, (5) The need to clarify the link between methylation and actual changes in gene and phenotypic expression, and finally (6) The risk of falling into deterministic thinking when interpreting results. ...
Article
Full-text available
Recent research in psychiatric genetics has led to a move away from simple diathesis-stress models to more complex models of psychopathology incorporating a focus on gene–environment interactions and epigenetics. Our increased understanding of the way biology encodes the impact of life events on organisms has also generated more sophisticated theoretical models concerning the molecular processes at the interface between “nature” and “nurture.” There is also increasing consensus that psychotherapy entails a specific type of learning in the context of an emotional relationship (i.e., the therapeutic relationship) that may also lead to epigenetic modifications across different therapeutic treatment modalities. This paper provides a systematic review of this emerging body of research. It is concluded that, although the evidence is still limited at this stage, extant research does indeed suggest that psychotherapy may be associated with epigenetic changes. Furthermore, it is argued that epigenetic studies may play a key role in the identification of biomarkers implicated in vulnerability for psychopathology, and thus may improve diagnosis and open up future research opportunities regarding the mechanism of action of psychotropic drugs as well as psychotherapy. We review evidence suggesting there may be important individual differences in susceptibility to environmental input, including psychotherapy. In addition, given that there is increasing evidence for the transgenerational transmission of epigenetic modifications in animals and humans exposed to trauma and adversity, epigenetic changes produced by psychotherapy may also potentially be passed on to the next generation, which opens up new perspective for prevention science. We conclude this paper stressing the limitations of current research and by proposing a set of recommendations for future research in this area.
... However, it is not that these effects are necessarily absent, but that the tests performed (i.e., probe-by-probe analysis; candidate genes) are weak, underpowered, confounded, and possibly obscured by unreliability. (For more in-depth discussions on the limitations of epigenetic research, see the article by Moffitt & Beckley, 2015; for an opposite approach, see the article by Burt & Simons, 2014.) Improved phenotyping, better environmental measures, bigger sample sizes, more informed study designs, and replication in independent populations will help to uncover more meaningful G × E interactions in the future (Anreiter et al., 2017). ...
Article
There is a growing recognition of the importance of micro-geographic areas in the generation of crime problems. While many studies show that crime is heavily concentrated at crime hot spots, scholars have only begun to examine how living in such places affects human development. We point to an unexplored component of the relationship between living in a hot spot, and crime and violence. We argue that crime hot spots function as violent and stressful environments and thus have long-term, possibly intergenerational, impacts on brain development. It is proposed that living in such places may be associated with DNA methylation profiles related to aggressive behavior. In this context, the study of the epigenetic influences of crime hot spots has tremendous potential for advancing our understanding of crime and violence, as well as generating new approaches for crime prevention.
... Fortunately, excellent critical discussions of these models in relation to adverse health outcomes have appeared elsewhere (see, e.g., Joseph 2004;; see Burt & Simons 2014 for a more concise overview). 5 Some have misguidedly overgeneralized arguments against twin studies of heritability as arguments against the use of twin samples in research generally (e.g., Moffitt & Beckley 2015). To be clear, my critique is focused on twin studies of heritability, and it is silent on the use of twin-based research for other purposes (e.g., studies of MZ twin discordance). ...
Article
Full-text available
Purpose: Heritability studies attempt to estimate the contribution of genes (vs. environments) to variation in phenotypes (or outcomes of interest) in a given population at a given time. The current chapter scrutinizes heritability studies of adverse health phenotypes, emphasizing flaws that have become more glaring in light of recent advances in the life sciences and manifest most visibly in epigenetics. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing on a diverse body of research and critical scholarship, this chapter examines the veracity of methodological and conceptual assumptions of heritability studies. Findings: The chapter argues that heritability studies are futile for two reasons: (1) heritability studies suffer from serious methodological flaws with the overall effect of making estimates inaccurate and likely biased toward inflated heritability, and, more importantly, (2) the conceptual (biological) model on which heritability studies depend—that of identifiably separate effects of genes vs. the environment on phenotype variance—is unsound. As discussed, contemporary bioscientific work indicates that genes and environments are enmeshed in a complex (bidirectional, interactional), dynamic relationship that defies any attempt to demarcate separate contributions to phenotype variance. Thus, heritability studies attempt the biologically impossible. The emerging research on the importance of microbiota is also discussed, including how the commensal relationship between microbial and human cells further stymies heritability studies. Originality/value: Understandably, few sociologists have the time or interest to be informed about the methodological and theoretical underpinnings of heritability studies or to keep pace with the incredible advances in genetics and epigenetics over the past several years. The present study aims to provide interested scholars with information about heritability and heritability estimates of adverse health outcomes in light of recent advances in the biosciences.
... 1 While Hooton and Sheldon supported eugenics, Rafter (2008) is careful to note both found Nazi eugenics horrifying. 2 For an exhaustive list of misconceptions about the genetics of crime, see . 3 In recent years, there has been an increased effort by biosocial criminologists to actively integrate the biosocial perspective with existing criminological theories (see, e.g., Schwartz 2014). 4 In a recent debate, the utility of hereditary studies in criminology has come under question (Barnes et al. 2014;Burt and Simons 2014;Massey 2015;Moffitt and Beckley 2015;Wright et al. 2015). Our position on this debate is simply that heredity studies do not reveal the concrete mechanisms involved in the production of the phenomena they describe and therefore are limited in their ability to advance the aims of science, which entail the prediction, explanation, and control phenomena. ...
Book
The science of criminology is at a crossroads. Despite accumulating a dizzying array of facts about crime, the field has yet to identify a body of theories that allows for the adequate prediction, explanation, and control of phenomena of central interest to criminologists. Mechanistic Criminology locates this problem within the field’s failure to conform to the expectations of scientific fields and reliance on antiquated methods of theory construction. The authors contend that this failure has resulted in an inability of criminologists to engage in theory falsification and competition—two central activities of science—that produce the forms of reliable knowledge that are unique to scientific fields. Mechanistic Criminology advocates for the adoption of a mechanistic mode of theorizing to allow criminologists to engage in theory falsification and competition and ignite rapid scientific discovery in the field. The proposed method is the same one employed within the biological sciences, which is responsible for their rapid scientific progress in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Should criminologists adopt this mechanistic approach, criminology could experience the same scientific revolution that is occurring in the biological sciences, and criminologists would generate the knowledge necessary for the prediction, explanation, and control of crime.
... Epigenetics has been viewed by some as an innovative way to illustrate how the environment 'gets under the skin' to affect outcomes (McEwen, 2012). Others, however, feel that the science is too immature to draw strong conclusions (Moffitt and Beckley, 2015;Wright et al., 2015). We argue that epigenetics is promising, and a developing line of work that takes seriously the notion that the body and the environment do not operate in a vaccum. ...
Article
Full-text available
For much of the history of criminology, tension has existed between sociologically oriented and biologically oriented perspectives. In recent years, a new, more nuanced approach has emerged which attempts to take both perspectives seriously and integrate them into a biosocial criminology. Yet, it remains, in large part, a fringe field of study. We argue that this is due, primarily, to critical as well as supportive scholars' views that the 'biosocial' perspective represents a paradigm shift in the field of criminology. In this article, drawing on our work with the late Nicole Rafter, we present a case that rather than a paradigm shift, this biosocial turn simply represents a maturing field. In doing so, we describe the ways in which biosocial criminology examines crime and antisocial behavior as a biological and social phenomenon. At the same time, we also point out some cautions with respect to this body of work. We conclude with a vision of the future of (biosocial) criminology.
... Criminology research examining early life adversity, from socioeconomic conditions to family environment to trauma, shows that life experiences can result in stable changes in DNAm [81,82,123,124]. Tobacco exposure, substance use, and psychosocial stress are among the few established environmental sources of methylation change related to antisocial behavior [125,126]. Given these recent findings, further research is needed to better understand the ontogenesis of functional lateralization at the population and individual levels, particularly with respect to antisocial behavior. ...
Article
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Human functions and traits are linked to cerebral networks serving different emotional and cognitive control systems, some of which rely on hemispheric specialization and integration to promote adaptive goal-directed behavior. Among the neural systems discussed in this context are those underlying pro-and antisocial behaviors. The diverse functions and traits governing our social behavior have been associated with lateralized neural activity. However, as with other complex behaviors, specific hemispheric roles are difficult to elucidate. This is due largely to environmental and contextual influences, which interact with neural substrates in the development and expression of pro and antisocial functions. This paper will discuss the reciprocal ties between environmental factors and hemispheric functioning in the context of social behavior. Rather than an exhaustive review, the paper will attempt to familiarize readers with the prominent literature and primary questions to encourage further research and in-depth discussion in this field.
... Despite the promise of epigenetics research to the behavioral and social sciences, there are also voices of caution. Recently, Moffitt and Beckley (2015) pointed out that many scientists urge caution with respect to epigenetics and that its largely uncritical embrace is hasty. One reason that many behavioral scientists prematurely embrace epigenetics research is perhaps because it supports an ideological position reinforcing the putative power of environment over genes. ...
Article
Research on epigenetic mechanisms is gaining traction, yet is poorly understood by criminologists and behavioral scientists. The current objective is to review relevant studies of interest to behavioral scientists who study crime, and to translate admittedly challenging scientific information into text that is digestible to the average criminologist. Using systematic search procedures the authors identified and reviewed 41 studies of epigenetic mechanisms in psychiatric and behavioral phenotypes among humans. Findings revealed significant epigenetic effects in an assortment of genes that are implicated in the etiology of depression, suicidality, callous-unemotional traits, and chronic and intergenerational aggressive behavior. Several polymorphisms that mediate the HPA axis, neurotransmission, immune response, brain development, serotonin synthesis, and other processes were found. Although prescriptive knowledge based on epigenetic findings to date is premature, epigenetics is a new and exciting scientific frontier not too different in spirit from Lamarck's observations centuries ago. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
... Biological sibling fixed effects can account for some of the most important unobserved characteristics that could confound the relationship between felony conviction and housing instability while still using observations from respondents first convicted of a felony before age 20 to estimate the previous felony conviction coefficient (Moffitt and Beckley 2015;Motz et al. 2020;Pingault et al. 2018). Because NLSY97 sampled at the household level, enrolling all household residents aged 12 to 16, 41% of all NLSY97 respondents have at least one biological sibling in the study sample. ...
Article
Full-text available
Objectives I examine housing instability among individuals with a felony conviction but no incarceration history relative to formerly incarcerated individuals as a means of separating the effect of felon status from that of incarceration per se—a distinction often neglected in prior research. I consider mechanisms and whether this relationship varies based on gender, race/ethnicity, time since conviction, and type of offense. Methods I use National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 data and restricted comparison group, individual fixed effects, and sibling fixed effects models to examine residential mobility and temporary housing residence during early adulthood. Results I find robust evidence that never-incarcerated individuals with felony convictions experience elevated risk of housing instability and residential mobility, even after adjusting for important mediators like financial resources and relationships. The evidence that incarceration has an additional, independent effect on housing instability is weaker, however, suggesting that the association between incarceration and housing instability found in prior studies may largely be driven by conviction status. Conclusions These findings reveal that conviction, independent of incarceration, introduces instability into the lives of the 12 million Americans who have been convicted of a felony but never imprisoned. Thus, research that attempts to identify an incarceration effect by comparing outcomes to convicted individuals who receive non-custodial sentences may obscure the important independent effect of conviction. Moreover, these findings highlight that the socioeconomic effects of criminal justice contact are broader than incarceration-focused research suggests. Consequently, reform efforts promoting the use of community corrections over incarceration may do less to reduce the harm of criminal justice contact than expected.
Chapter
Family-based behavioral genetics have played a critical role in understanding how rearing environments shape child outcomes and clarifying when the effects of rearing environments are purely causal (in understanding child behavioral outcomes, especially in regard to the effects of parenting on children). However, some have questioned the continuing value of such studies given the ease and affordability of genotyping and long-standing concerns about the validity and interpretability of findings from family-based behavioral genetic studies. In this chapter, concerns about the validity and interpretability of family-based behavioral genetic studies are addressed and we provide additional support for the unique information provided by such studies, including potential for informing intervention research. We conclude that there is a continued need of family-based behavioral genetics in the current era of molecular genetic and epigenetic studies.
Article
This article investigates American biosocial crim-inology, a research field that crystallised in the 2000s, through the lens of Bourdieu's field theory. Mixing biological with sociological variables, the biosocial move-ment offers a form of crime science extended to antiso-cial behaviour. A controversial criminology, it is mainly undertaken by researchers who are dominated in their criminological field by sociology. Although heteroge-neous, this current of research is generally identified by a 'vocal' minority of academics who graduated from less prestigious criminology and criminal justice university departments. An analysis of the discourses and practices of this minority led to the unearthing of an array of more or less subversive strategies vis-à-vis the dominant socio-criminology that are aimed at increasing their volume of scientific and academic capital.
Article
This article examines race, poverty, and criminal behavior ignoring criminological orthodoxy adding two features that spoil the politically correct mantra that black crime results from white racism. Adding East Asians, who surpass white Americans in almost every index of prosocial behavior despite experiencing a history of prejudice and discrimination aimed at them, casts serious doubt on that contention. To be consistent with structural arguments for black poverty and crime, proponents would have to attribute Asian successes and low crime rates to pro-Asian bias on the part of whites to their own detriment. The second addition is biosocial science. This perspective links criminology to other more advanced disciplines and research methodologies and uses their theories, techniques, and technology, such as allostasis, epigenetics, DNA analysis and neuroimaging. No group has suffered more from poverty and crime than African Americans, and no group will benefit more from a forthright examination of its causes.
Article
As criminology has become more interdisciplinary in recent years, biosocial criminology has earned a place at the table. Although this perspective comes in many forms, one important proposition has gained increasing attention: that the 2D:4D finger digit ratio—a purported physical biomarker for exposure to fetal testosterone—is related to criminal, aggressive, and risky/impulsive behavior. Strong claims in the literature have been made for this link even though the findings seem to be inconsistent. To establish the empirical status of this relationship, we subjected this body of work to a meta-analysis. Our multilevel analyses of 660 effect size estimates drawn from 47 studies (14,244 individual cases) indicate a small overall effect size (mean r = .047). Moderator analyses indicate that this effect is rather " general " across methodological specifications—findings that are at odds with theoretical propositions that specify the importance of exposure to fetal testosterone in predicting criminal and analogous behavior later in life. We conclude with a call for exercising caution over embracing the findings from one or two studies and instead highlight the importance of systematically organizing the full body of literature on a topic before making decisions about what does, and what does not, predict criminal and analogous behavior.
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“La composición del crimen: Una aproximación analítica” introduce los principales conceptos, teorías y evidencias sobre el estudio del crimen, invitando a toda persona interesada a adentrarse en este apasionante ámbito de estudio. El reto que nos planteamos en este libro es presentar una visión analítica sobre el fenómeno criminal. Nos preguntamos qué elementos componen el crimen, cada crimen, sin los cuales el mismo no tiene lugar. Del mismo modo que se puede descomponer un coche en sus partes mecánicas, o un ser humano en un conjunto de elementos biológicos, también se puede descomponer el crimen en tres elementos fundamentales: el agresor, el objeto del crimen y la ausencia de un “guardián capaz”. Este libro sintetiza el principal saber científico sobre cada uno de estos elementos que componen el evento criminal. Después de leer este libro, el lector será capaz de desarrollar una visión analítica sobre el crimen, desgranando el mismo en sus componentes fundamentales, e incluso proponer medidas para su prevención y control. “21st Century criminology has seen the emergence of a “new crime science.” It combines both rigorous empirical research and practical theories that predict the distribution of crime and provide guidance in how to respond effectively. This book summarizes the findings of the new crime science and their implications for society.” (Wesley G. Skogan, Foreword) “Este libro es de lo más fresco e interesante que le ha sucedido recientemente al panorama académico de la criminología en español […] el autor logra tanto condensar analíticamente el principal saber científico existente hoy sobre el crimen, su estructura y componentes, como transmitirlo al lector de forma sencilla e incluso amena.” (Fernando Miró Llinares, Prólogo)
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Two markedly different concepts of heritability co-exist in the social and life sciences. Behavioral genetics has popularized a highly technical, quantitative concept: heritability as the proportion of genetic variance relative to the total phenotypic variance of a trait in a population. At the same time, a more common biological notion simply refers to the transmission of phenotypic traits across generations via the transmission of genes. It is argued here that the behavioral-genetic concept is of little use overall, while the common biological concept is overly narrow and implies a false view of the significance of genes in development. By appropriately expanding heritability into a general causal concept based on its role in evolution, we will arrive at a new view of development, heritability, and evolution that recognizes the importance of non-genetic inheritance and the causal parity of all determinants of phenotypic traits.
Book
Around one in five prisoners report the previous or current incarceration of a parent. Many such prisoners attest to the long-term negative effects of parental incarceration on one’s own sense of self and on the range and quality of opportunities for building a conventional life. And yet, the problem of intergenerational incarceration has received only passing attention from academics, and virtually little if any consideration from policy makers and correctional officials. This book – the first of its kind – offers an in-depth examination of the causes, experiences and consequences of intergenerational incarceration. It draws extensively from surveys and interviews with second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-generation prisoners to explicate the personal, familial and socio-economic contexts typically associated with incarceration across generations. The book examines 1) the emergence of the prison as a dominant if not life-defining institution for some families, 2) the link between intergenerational trauma, crime and intergenerational incarceration, 3) the role of police, courts, and corrections in amplifying or ameliorating such problems, and 4) the possible means for preventing intergenerational incarceration. This is undeniably a book that bears witness to many tragic and traumatic stories. But it is also a work premised on the idea that knowing these stories – knowing that they often resist alignment with pre-conceived ideas about who prisoners are or who they might become – is part and parcel of advancing critical debate and, more importantly, of creating real change.
Article
Because criminal behavior has many causes, it is reasonable to assume that some of those causal factors will interact. Interactions occur when the effect of one factor on an outcome depends in some way on the presence or absence of another factor. Although tests for interactions are common, there remains no formal typology of interaction models in criminology generally or biopsychosocial criminology specifically. Empirical studies often overlook some of the challenges of statistically testing for interactions. This review, thus, had three goals: (1) offer a typology of interactions that criminologists are likely to observe; (2) provide an example analysis testing for interactions; and (3) survey the key challenges that arise when empirically assessing interactions. We do so while reviewing research in biopsychosocial criminology, a perspective that has expanded in recent years and has frequently tested for interactions. Implications for theory and policy are discussed.
Chapter
In this chapter, we focus on the development of temperament in infancy and childhood. First, we describe ancient origins as well as recent and contemporary perspectives. Then, we describe elements of temperament theory, including definitions of theoretical constructs, proposals for the structure of temperament, and the nature of temperament dimensions and types. Then, we treat temperament development, including expectations for stability and change and developmental significance. Next, developmental behavior genetic findings are detailed. We conclude by suggesting future directions for genetic studies of the development of child temperament.
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Unfortunately, the nature versus nurture debate continues in criminology. Over the past five years there has been a surge of studies in criminology estimating the heritability of crime and related outcomes, which invariably report sizeable heritability estimates (~50%) and minimal to non-existent effects of the so-called shared environment. Reports of such high heritabilities for complex social behaviors such as crime are surprising, and findings indicating minimal shared environmental influences (usually interpreted to include parenting and community factors) seem implausible given decades of criminological research demonstrating their importance. Importantly, however, the models on which these estimates are based have fatal flaws for complex social behaviors such as crime. Moreover, the very goal of heritability studies—partitioning the effects of nature versus nurture—is misguided given the bidirectional, interactional relationship between genes, cells, organisms, and environments. The present study provides a critique of heritability study methods and assumptions to illuminate the dubious foundations of heritability estimates and questions the rationale and utility of partitioning genetic and environmental effects. After critiquing the major models, namely twin and adoption studies, from both the classical and recently emergent postgenomic paradigms, we call for an end to heritability studies given their flaws and their rather limited value for advancing knowledge on the etiology of crime. We then present what we perceive to be a more useful biosocial research agenda that is consonant with and informed by recent advances in our understanding of gene function and developmental plasticity. We conclude by noting that at the current state of knowledge social explanations of crime are not undermined by genetic or biological findings, but rather the more we learn about genes and biology, the more consequential the environment becomes.
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An increasing number of population studies are assessing epigenetic variation in relation to early-life outcomes in tissues accessible to epidemiologic researchers. Epigenetic mechanisms are highly tissue specific, however, and it is unclear whether the variation observed in one of the tissue types is representative of other sources or whether the variation in DNA methylation is distinct, reflecting potential functional differences across tissues. To assess relations between DNA methylation in various samples from newborns and children in early infancy, we measured promoter or gene-body DNA methylation in matched term placenta, cord blood, and 3-6 mo saliva samples from 27 unrelated infants enrolled in the Rhode Island Child Health Study. We investigated 7 gene loci (KLF15, NR3C1, LEP, DEPTOR, DDIT4, HSD11B2, and CEBPB) and global methylation, using repetitive region LINE-1 and ALUYb8 sequences. We observed a great degree of interlocus, intertissue, and interindividual epigenetic variation in most of the analyzed loci. In correlation analyses, only cord blood NR3C1 promoter methylation correlated negatively with methylation in saliva. We conclude that placenta, cord blood, and saliva cannot be used as a substitute for one another to evaluate DNA methylation at these loci during infancy. Each tissue has a unique epigenetic signature that likely reflects their differential functions. Future studies should consider the uniqueness of these features, to improve epigenetic biomarker discovery and translation.-Armstrong, D. A., Lesseur, C., Conradt, E., Lester, B. M., Marsit, C. J. Global and gene-specific DNA methylation across multiple tissues in early infancy: implications for children's health research.
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Recent studies have identified both heritable DNA methylation effects and differential methylation in disease-discordant identical twins. Larger sample sizes, replication, genetic-epigenetic analyses and longitudinal assays are now needed to establish the role of epigenetic variants in disease.
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pigenetics is being increasingly combined with epidemiology to add mechanistic understanding to associations observed between environmental, genetic and stochastic factors and human disease phenotypes. Currently, epigenetic epidemiological studies primarily focus on exploring if and where the epigenome (i.e. the overall epigenetic state of a cell) is influenced by specific environmental exposures like prenatal nutrition, sun exposure and smoking. In this issue of the IJE, Nada Borghol et al. report an association between childhood social-economic status (SES) and differential DNA methylation in adulthood. Low SES may integrate diverse and heterogeneous environmental influences, and knowing which epigenetic changes are associated with low SES may provide clues about the biological processes underlying its health consequences. The authors stress that their study is preliminary. This statement is, in fact, to a greater or lesser extent applicable to the entire first wave of studies currently being published that likewise aim to discover associations between epigenetic variation measured on a genome-wide scale and environmental exposures or disease phenotypes. When executing such epigenome-wide association studies (EWASs), every epigenetic epidemiologist is struggling with the same biological, technical and methodological issues. It is important to take these into consideration when designing a study and interpreting the results. Let us consider seven of those issues, taking the current study on SES as a starting point.
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Twin studies have been a valuable source of information about the genetic basis of complex traits. To maximize the potential of twin studies, large, worldwide registers of data on twins and their relatives have been established. Here, we provide an overview of the current resources for twin research. These can be used to obtain insights into the genetic epidemiology of complex traits and diseases, to study the interaction of genotype with sex, age and lifestyle factors, and to study the causes of co-morbidity between traits and diseases. Because of their design, these registers offer unique opportunities for selected sampling for quantitative trait loci linkage and association studies.
Article
The results of this study indicate that social class is related negatively to criminal convictions. The study tested and confirmed the hypothesis that social class has both genetic and experiential components which predispose class members to criminal involvement. On the experiential side it is known that lower class status is connected to a variety of crime-associated characteristics such as less intellectual stimulation and lower educational attainment, greater disparity between opportunities and aspirations and greater likelihood of criminal associations. On the genetic side, we know less about social class correlations with heritable biological factors which might predispose to crime. In this context we will be examining autonomic nervous system characteristics which may be heritable, as well as class- and crime-related characteristics. Other candidates for consideration as mediating variables are biological factors related to intelligence and temperament.
Article
Society prizes the rapid translation of basic biological science into ways to prevent human illness. However, the premature rush to take murine epigenetic findings in these directions makes impossible demands on prospective parents and triggers serious social and ethical questions.
Article
Objectives This paper uses a sample of convicted offenders from Pennsylvania to estimate the effect of incarceration on post-release criminality. Methods To do so, we capitalize on a feature of the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania—the county-level randomization of cases to judges. We begin by identifying five counties in which there is substantial variation across judges in the uses of incarceration, but no evidence indicating that the randomization process had failed. The estimated effect of incarceration on rearrest is based on comparison of the rearrest rates of the caseloads of judges with different proclivities for the use of incarceration. Results Using judge as an instrumental variable, we estimate a series of confidence intervals for the effect of incarceration on one year, two year, five year, and ten year rearrest rates. Conclusions On the whole, there is little evidence in our data that incarceration impacts rearrest.
Article
The epigenome has been heralded as a key 'missing piece' of the aetiological puzzle for complex phenotypes across the biomedical sciences. The standard research approaches developed for genetic epidemiology, however, are not necessarily appropriate for epigenetic studies of common disease. Here, we discuss the optimal execution of population-based studies of epigenetic variation, which will contribute to the emerging field of 'epigenetic epidemiology' and emphasize the importance of establishing a causal role in pathology for disease-associated epigenetic changes. We propose that improved understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying human health and disease are best achieved through carrying out studies of epigenetics in populations as a part of an integrated functional genomics strategy.
Article
This overview presents selected recent developments in twin studies of adult psychiatric disorders. Subjects examined include the generalizability of heritability estimates, the impact of sex on patterns of familial transmission, gene-environment interaction, twin studies of anxiety and eating disorders, the so-called family environment, special issues raised by twin studies of drug use and abuse, and gene-environment correlation. The studies reviewed suggest that (1) the heritability of many behavioral traits may be greater in permissive than in restrictive environments and, (2) for psychiatric and drug abuse disorders, genes probably work through both traditional within-the-skin physiological pathways and outside-the-skin behavioral pathways. In the latter, genes affect aspects of the social environment, such as exposure to stressful life events and levels of social support, which in turn feed back on risk of illness. Twin studies remain a vibrant part of the field of psychiatric genetics and an important complement to and context for current efforts to localize individual susceptibility genes.
Article
If maternal expressed emotion is an environmental risk factor for children's antisocial behavior problems, it should account for behavioral differences between siblings growing up in the same family even after genetic influences on children's behavior problems are taken into account. This hypothesis was tested in the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study with a nationally representative 1994-1995 birth cohort of twins. The authors interviewed the mothers of 565 five-year-old monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs and established which twin in each family received more negative emotional expression and which twin received more warmth. Within MZ pairs, the twin receiving more maternal negativity and less warmth had more antisocial behavior problems. Qualitative interviews were used to generate hypotheses about why mothers treat their children differently. The results suggest that maternal emotional attitudes toward children may play a causal role in the development of antisocial behavior and illustrate how genetically informative research can inform tests of socialization hypotheses.
Article
This article reviews behavioral-genetic research to show how it can help address questions of causation in developmental psychopathology. The article focuses on studies of antisocial behavior, because these have been leading the way in investigating environmental as well as genetic influences on psychopathology. First, the article illustrates how behavioral-genetic methods are being newly applied to detect the best candidates for genuine environmental causes among the many risk factors for antisocial behavior. Second, the article examines findings of interaction between genes and environments (G x E) associated with antisocial behavior, outlining steps for testing hypotheses of measured G x E. Third, the article envisages future work on gene-environment interplay, arguing that it is an interesting and profitable way forward for psychopathology research.
Article
This article reviews behavioral-genetic research into human antisocial behavior. The focus is on studies of antisocial behavior that have been leading the way in investigating environmental and genetic influences on human behavior. The first generation of studies, which provided quantitative estimates attesting that genes and environments each influence about half of the population's variation in antisocial behaviors is interpreted. Then how behavioral-genetic methods are being applied to test developmental theory and to detect environmental causes of antisocial behavior is illustrated. Evidence for interactions between genes and the environment in the etiology of antisocial behavior is also examined. The article ends by envisioning future work on gene-environment interplay in the etiology of antisocial behavior.
The seven plagues of epigenetic epidemiology
  • Heijmans
Heijmans, Bastiaan T., and Jonathan Mill. 2012. The seven plagues of epigenetic epidemiology. International Journal of Epidemiology 41:74-8.
Twin studies of psychiatric illness: An update
  • Kendler