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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 Apr;49(4):321-32; quiz 431.

Effects of child maltreatment and inherited liability on antisocial development: an official records study.

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  • 1George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, Saint Louis, MO, USA.



Evidence is steadily accumulating that a preventable environmental hazard, child maltreatment, exerts causal influences on the development of long-standing patterns of antisocial behavior in humans. The relationship between child maltreatment and antisocial outcome, however, has never previously been tested in a large-scale study in which official reports (rather than family member reports) of child abuse and neglect were incorporated, and genetic influences comprehensively controlled for.


We cross-referenced official report data on child maltreatment from the Missouri Division of Social Services (DSS) with behavioral data from 4,432 epidemiologically ascertained Missouri twins from the Missouri Twin Registry (MOTWIN). We performed a similar procedure for a clinically ascertained sample of singleton children ascertained from families affected by alcohol dependence participating in the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA; n = 428) to determine whether associations observed in the general population held true in an "enriched" sample at combined inherited and environmental risk for antisocial development.


For both the twin and clinical samples, the additive effects (not interactive effects) of maltreatment and inherited liability on antisocial development were confirmed and were highly statistically significant.


Child maltreatment exhibited causal influence on antisocial outcome when controlling for inherited liability in both the general population and in a clinically ascertained sample. Official report maltreatment data represents a critical resource for resolving competing hypotheses on genetic and environmental causation of child psychopathology, and for assessing intervention outcomes in efforts to prevent antisocial development.

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