CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Researchers studying the genetic roots of antisocial behavior report that children with one variant of a serotonin transporter gene are more likely to exhibit psychopathic traits if they also grow up poor.
The study, the first to identify a specific gene associated with psychopathic tendencies in youth, appears this month in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
People with psychopathic traits generally are more callous and unemotional than their peers, said University of Illinois psychology professor Edelyn Verona, whose graduate student Naomi Sadeh led the study.
"Those with psychopathic traits tend to be less attached to others, even if they have relationships with them," Verona said. "They are less reactive to emotional things in the lab. They are charming and grandiose at times. They're better at conning and manipulating others, and they have low levels of empathy and remorse."
Although psychopathy is considered abnormal, these traits may be useful in certain circumstances, Verona said.
"For example, these folks tend to have less anxiety and are less prone to depression," she said, qualities that might be useful in dangerous or unstable environments. In most cases, their cognitive abilities are also intact.
Studies of psychopathy often focus on those in prison for violent crimes, but most people who commit such crimes are not psychopathic, Verona said.
Unlike the detached, methodical psychopath, violent offenders are often highly emotional and impulsive, and their cognitive abilities are sometimes impaired.
Early research on psychopathy sometimes confused these two "subtypes," Verona said. "But our research suggests that offenders are very heterogeneous in terms of causal factors," she said. "That means that although they end up in similar places, they don't get there through the same pathway."
The new research focused on two variants of the serotonin tra
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign