Scientists have long been looking for an answer to the question of why some people are successful in society, while others are outcasts. Observations of the twins showed that it was partly a matter of heredity, and brain scans of prisoners helped to identify common patterns. The next step is to prevent the risk of antisocial behavior in childhood and channel energy in a positive direction.
Calculate the bully
In February of this year, the media reported on an unusual experiment in schools in Novosibirsk. It was decided to take the buccal epithelium from the inner side of the cheek from the students of the fifth to eleventh grades, isolate DNA and look for three mutations associated with aggression, creativity and intelligence. In addition, the children had to undergo psychological testing. Participation in the study was voluntary and paid.
The authors of the project - among them, in addition to the city center of education and health "Magistr" and the private company "VedaGenetika", the Novosibirsk State Medical University and the Institute of Cytology and Genetics (ICG) of the SB RAS, promised to focus on finding creative children with high cognitive activity. However, the name of the program "Psychogenetics of Deviant Behavior of Adolescents in the Conditions of Educational Organizations" spoke for itself. Most likely, this was the reason for the misunderstanding between the general public, journalists and scientists. The media flooded with headlines about how students are looking for a crime gene, and parents expressed concern on social networks.
Scientists immediately refuted the hyped sensation. Scientific consultant of the project, head of the inter-institute sector of molecular epidemiology and human evolution of the ICG SB RAS, Doctor of Medical Sciences Vladimir Maksimov, in a commentary to the Novosti Siberian Science portal, warned against interpreting their research too literally. According to him, it is primarily aimed at improving the work of school psychologists. It is important to understand whether knowledge about certain genetic characteristics will help correct the child's behavior.
Approximate stages of the Novosibirsk study "Psychogenetics of deviant behavior in adolescents in educational institutions". In the figure, the OO abbreviation stands for "educational organization"
In a conversation with a RIA Novosti correspondent, Vladimir Maksimov clarified that the idea of the study is not as bad as the journalists presented it. However, he declined to comment otherwise. The head of the department of crisis psychology of the city center for education and health "Magister" Maria Gladkikh emphasized: preliminary results are already there, but they will not be made public.
It's not time yet
Meanwhile, the tasks of the Novosibirsk project are quite in line with modern medical genetics, which is looking for a connection between the characteristics of health and mutations in DNA. In particular, its findings are now used in the development of drugs and measures for the prevention of hereditary diseases.
However, Siberian scientists were going to go further and focus on more subtle areas such as psyche and behavior. In particular, there is evidence that carriers of one of the variants of the D4 dopamine receptor gene are prone to seeking novelty, antisocial behavior. At the same time, they show good sports results, choose risky professions. "That is, a genetic trait can be implemented in a way that is beneficial to society if a teenager receives support in a timely manner," the authors of the project write in the theses for the conference held in 2020.
But not everything is so simple.It is impossible to consider a person inclined to antisocial behavior only on the basis of the corresponding gene variant. It may not manifest itself at all, and therefore it makes no sense to make a decision that it needs to be corrected, limited. This opinion was expressed by the head of the laboratory of molecular genetic diagnostics No. 1 of the Medical and Genetic Scientific Center named after Academician NP Bochkov, Candidate of Medical Sciences, laboratory geneticist Olga Shchagina.
"The study of genetic predisposition is a very interesting area of medical science. However, the more we know, the more obvious the need for a careful approach to the interpretation of data. Scientifically proven association of a genetic variant with some diseases or characteristics is just information that this variant is in a certain group of people. But there are no unambiguous ways to translate this information in the other direction - from the genotype of a particular person to predicting his condition - for widespread disorders this problem is especially acute: the more often a particular genetic variant occurs in the population, the less its effect on the risk of trait realization in an individual. Too many other factors - both environmental and genetic - in particular, the interaction of products of different genes with each other. Of course, scientific research is very important here, but the time for practical application of data has not yet come ", - clarified the research lady.
A similar point of view is expressed by scientists from the United States in an article in the journal Nature. In their opinion, a too simple interpretation of the relationship between the genotype and personality traits can lead to the fact that humanity is divided into two large groups: "normal people" and potential "criminals" whose freedom of action will be limited.
Doomed to break norms
In 2013, a group of scientists from the University of Michigan (USA) developed a series of tests that allow to determine among children over three years old those who in the future will be prone to antisocial behavior - aggression, vandalism, theft, and so on. The researchers named outbursts of rage, aggression towards animals and peers, lies and selfishness as the main signs pointing to a "criminal career".
According to scientists, these features are associated with the work of the amygdala, an area of the brain that plays a key role in the formation of emotions. In people prone to antisocial behavior, it is more sensitive to external stimuli. They are prone to overreaction, aggression, or depressed moods. If at the same time they live in not the most comfortable conditions and do not receive social support, then their criminal potential can be fully realized.
In people prone to antisocial behavior, the amygdala, an area of the brain that plays a key role in the formation of emotions, is more sensitive to external stimuli. They also have a thinner cerebral cortex.
Psychologists from the USA, Great Britain and New Zealand came to similar conclusions. True, in addition to the hypersensitive amygdala, they revealed peculiarities in the structure of the cerebral cortex in violators of the law. In particular, in people exhibiting antisocial behavior for a long time and not only in adolescence, it is thinner, and its area is smaller than that of the rest.
Scientists analyzed data from a large long-term study, which involved over a thousand New Zealanders born in 1972-1973. They were followed from the age of three until the age of 45. All volunteers were divided into three groups: those who showed antisocial behavior as a child and adolescent, those who behaved in the same way as adults, and those who never violated generally accepted norms. In addition, 672 subjects underwent an MRI scan of the brain already in adulthood.
Experts noticed that most of the participants from the second group have a smaller and thinner cerebral cortex - primarily in those areas related to the control of executive functions, processing of emotions and motivation.
Volunteers from the other two groups did not have such differences. So, the authors of the work concluded, antisocial behavior has a neurobiological basis. However, it is genetically determined or similar structural features of the brain appeared due to early childhood trauma, it is unclear - after all, the first MRI scans were made to the study participants only at the age of 45.
And in August 2021, an international team of scientists described almost six hundred genes associated with a tendency to antisocial behavior. We are talking about the sections of DNA that determine how the human brain is structured and works.
During the study, scientists sequenced the genomes of more than one and a half million people from Europe and the United States. In addition, we analyzed the results of a special test that all project participants passed. It consisted of several questionnaires and assessed the tendency of volunteers to seven forms of antisocial behavior - attention deficit disorder, drug addiction, alcoholism, smoking, unnecessary risk, promiscuity in sexual relations and early onset of sexual activity.
Comparing the data obtained, scientists have identified almost six hundred variants of genes that are somehow associated with violation of generally accepted norms. Almost all of them affect the development and functioning of the brain. Among the "antisocial" genes were both well-known - for example, CADM2, GABRA2 and TMEM161B, responsible for the formation of alcohol addiction - and completely new. For example, ALMS1 and ERAP2 were previously associated with kidney and immune function, but now it turned out that they are also associated with a tendency to violate generally accepted norms.
As the authors of the work note, each of the isolated gene variants separately is not associated with asocial behavior. But if several such mutations are present in a person's DNA at once, then the likelihood that he will go along a crooked path increases.