A research team led by postdoc Jasmin Wertz, Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffitt determined that a genetic signature previously discovered in a genome-wide association study of educational attainment can also predict criminal offending. The study used data from individuals participating in the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study in Britain and the Dunedin Longitudinal Study in New Zealand.
Study participants’ genetic information was used to create polygenic scores, which combine information from large numbers of genetic variants all across the genome to measure a continuum of genetic influences. Participants’ polygenic scores were associated with their cognitive and self-control skills, academic difficulties and truancy from school when they were school-aged and could also predict a persistent pattern of antisocial behavior that occurs in childhood and persists into adulthood. Participants with lower polygenic scores for educational attainment were more likely to receive an official criminal record, compared to those with a higher polygenic score. However, the difference in risk was small. It is not possible to accurately predict who will become a criminal based on these findings.
These findings do, however, help confirm that children's experiences at school play a key role in whether or not the they will go on to become an offender. Schools are the first institutions of social control that children encounter outside of the family, which makes schools an ideal launching pad for crime prevention. Helping children develop better cognitive and self-control skills and improving their school experiences may prevent genetic influences on crime from unfolding.