Genetic factors strongly shape how peers are chosen

August 6, 2007

As we develop, the company we keep may be increasingly influenced by our genes, according to a new study led by Virginia Commonwealth University researchers.

Researchers report that as individuals develop, genes become increasingly important in influencing how they choose their peer groups. The findings offer insight into which individuals may be at risk for future substance use or other externalizing behaviors such as conduct and antisocial personality disorder.

“As we grow and move out of our own home environment, our genetically influenced temperament becomes more and more important in influencing the kinds of friends we like to hang out with,” said Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and human genetics in VCU’s School of Medicine and lead author on the study. “The study shows how genetic and family environmental factors influence the ways in which we create our own social environment as we grow.”

In the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, a journal of the American Medical Association, researchers reported for the first time the degree to which genetic factors impact how people choose their social environment.

From a developmental perspective, Kendler and his colleagues examined peer group deviance among approximately 1,800 male twin pairs from mid-childhood to early adulthood, between 1998 and 2004. The twin pairs that participated in this study were from the Virginia Twin Registry. The Virginia Twin Registry, now part of the VCU Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry (MATR), contains a population-based record of twins from Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Through a series of interviews, researchers found that genetic factors increasingly impact how male twins make choices as they mature and develop their own social groups.

“The road from genes to externalizing behaviors like drug use and antisocial behaviors is not entirely direct or biological,” Kendler said. “An important part of this pathway involves our genetics influencing our own social environment, which in turn impacts on our risk for a whole host of deviant behaviors.”

“Our results demonstrate clearly that a complete understanding of the pathway from genes to antisocial behaviors, including drug abuse, has to take into account self-selection into deviant versus benign environments,” he said. “The effects of peers in adolescence can be quite powerful, either encouraging or discouraging deviant behaviors. Peers also provide access to substances of abuse.”

Source: Virginia Commonwealth University

Explore further: Genetics of addiction: Twin studies

Related Stories

Genetics of addiction: Twin studies

November 6, 2013
Twin studies offer a critical method to studying questions of nature and nurture in addiction research. Identical twins arise from the same fertilized egg, so they share 100 percent of their genes. If a trait is entirely ...

Replicating research: Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry helps inform science and advance human health for more than 40 years

August 3, 2016
When twins Cathy and Christine Davison were 9 years old, Virginia Commonwealth University researchers attached electrodes to their arms and asked them a series of increasingly difficult math questions. "Then they had us run ...

Twin study suggests genetic factors contribute to insomnia in adults

September 16, 2015
A new study of twins suggests that insomnia in adults is partially explained by genetic factors, and this heritability is higher in females than in males.

Twins study confirms genetic role in political belief

December 16, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A research paper appearing in the academic journal Political Psychology re-affirms the genetic underpinnings of political beliefs, refuting critics who challenged previous research that linked politics ...

Study of smoking twins points to growing influence of genetic factors

November 16, 2011
A new study of twins led by the University of Colorado Boulder shows that today's smokers are more strongly influenced by genetic factors than in the past and that the influence makes it more difficult for them to quit.

Oft-used DSM diagnosis of alcohol dependence shows reliability

June 15, 2011
Compared to other common psychiatric disorders, the diagnostic reliability of alcohol dependence (AD) as determined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) is relatively high. ...

Recommended for you

Forgotten strands of DNA initiate the development of immune cells

September 21, 2017
Intricate human physiological features such as the immune system require exquisite formation and timing to develop properly. Genetic elements must be activated at just the right moment, across vast distances of genomic space.

Genome editing reveals role of gene important for human embryo development

September 20, 2017
Researchers have used genome editing technology to reveal the role of a key gene in human embryos in the first few days of development. This is the first time that genome editing has been used to study gene function in human ...

A piece of the puzzle: Eight autism-related mutations in one gene

September 19, 2017
Scientists have identified a hotspot for autism-related mutations in a single gene.

Scientists identify key regulator of male fertility

September 19, 2017
When it comes to male reproductive fertility, timing is everything. Now scientists are finding new details on how disruption of this timing may contribute to male infertility or congenital illness.

New assay leads to step toward gene therapy for deaf patients

September 18, 2017
Scientists at Oregon State University have taken an important step toward gene therapy for deaf patients by developing a way to better study a large protein essential for hearing and finding a truncated version of it.

Genomic recycling: Ancestral genes take on new roles

September 18, 2017
One often hears about the multitude of genes we have in common with chimps, birds or other living creatures, but such comparisons are sometimes misleading. The shared percentage usually refers only to genes that encode instructions ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.