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Resilience and Vulnerability in Adolescents: Genetic Influences on Differential Response to Risk for Delinquency

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Abstract

Prior research has identified a vast number of correlates for delinquent behavior during adolescence, yet a considerable number of errors in prediction remain. These errors suggest that behavioral development among a portion of youths is not well understood, with some exhibiting resilience and others a heightened vulnerability to risks. Examining cases that do not confirm prediction outcomes provides an opportunity to achieve a greater understanding of the relationships between risk factors and delinquency, which can be used to improve theoretical explanations of behavior. This study explores the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to differences in individual responses to cumulative risk for delinquency among a sample of adolescent twins (N = 784 pairs, 49 % female) in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results indicate that additive genetic and unique environmental factors significantly contribute to variation in responses to cumulative risk across 14 risk factors spanning individual, familial, and environmental domains. When analyzed separately, the majority of the difference between vulnerable youths and the overall population was attributed to genetic influences, while differences between resilient youths and the population were primarily attributed to environmental influences. The findings illustrate the importance of examining both genetic and environmental influences in order to enhance explanations of adolescent offending.

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Acknowledgments

This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health Data Files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

Author Contributions

J.N. conceived of the study, participated in developing the research design, analyzed the data, and was involved in the preparation of the manuscript. C.S. participated in the development of the measures, the interpretation of the results, and assisted in preparing the manuscript. Both authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jamie Newsome.

Appendix: Description of Risk and Delinquency Measures

Appendix: Description of Risk and Delinquency Measures

School Performance

  1. 1.

    At the most recent grading period, what was your grade in English or language arts?

  2. 2.

    And what was your grade in mathematics?

  3. 3.

    And what was your grade in history or social studies?

  4. 4.

    And what was your grade in science?

Attachment to School

Since the school year started, how often did you have trouble:

  1. 1.

    Getting along with your teachers?

  2. 2.

    Paying attention in school?

  3. 3.

    Getting your homework done?

  4. 4.

    Getting along with other students?

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements:

  1. 5.

    You feel close to people at your school.

  2. 6.

    You feel like you are part of your school.

  3. 7.

    You are happy to be at your school.

  4. 8.

    The teachers at your school treat students fairly.

  5. 9.

    You feel safe in your school.

Problem Solving Skills

  1. 1.

    When you have a problem to solve, one of the first things you do is get as many facts about the problem as possible.

  2. 2.

    When you are attempting to find a solution to a problem, you usually try to think of as many different ways to approach the problem as possible.

  3. 3.

    When making decisions, you generally use a systematic method for judging and comparing alternatives.

  4. 4.

    After carrying out a solution to a problem, you usually try to analyze what went right and what went wrong.

Coping Skills

  1. 1.

    You usually go out of your way to avoid having to deal with problems in your life.

  2. 2.

    Difficult problems make you very upset.

  3. 3.

    When making decisions, you usually go with your “gut feelings” without thinking too much about the consequences of each alternative.

Attachment to Parents

  1. 1.

    How close do you feel to your mother?

  2. 2.

    How much do you think she cares about you?

  3. 3.

    How close do you feel to your father?

  4. 4.

    How much do you think he cares about you?

Parental Involvement

Which of the following have you done with your mother/father in the past 4 weeks?

  1. 1.

    Gone shopping

  2. 2.

    Played a sport?

  3. 3.

    Gone to religious or church-related event?

  4. 4.

    Talked about someone you’re dating or a party you went to?

  5. 5.

    Gone to a movie, play, museum, concert, or sports event?

  6. 6.

    Had a talk about a personal problem you were having?

  7. 7.

    Had a serious argument about your behavior?

  8. 8.

    Talked about your school work or grades?

  9. 9.

    Worked on a project for school?

  10. 10.

    Talked about other things you’re doing in school?

Parental Engagement

  1. 1.

    Most of the time, your mother is warm and loving toward you.

  2. 2.

    Your mother encourages you to be independent.

  3. 3.

    When you do something wrong that is important, your mother talks about it with you and helps you understand why it is wrong.

  4. 4.

    You are satisfied with the way you and your mother communicate with each other.

  5. 5.

    Overall, you are satisfied with your relationship with your mother.

  6. 6.

    Most of the time, your father is warm and loving toward you.

  7. 7.

    You are satisfied with the way you and your father communicate with each other.

  8. 8.

    Overall, you are satisfied with your relationship with your father.

Parental Supervision

  1. 1.

    How often is she [mother] home when you leave for school?

  2. 2.

    How often is she home when you return from school?

  3. 3.

    How often is he [father] home when you leave for school?

  4. 4.

    How often is he home when you return from school?

Delinquent Peers

  1. 1.

    Of your 3 best friends, how many smoke at least 1 cigarette a day?

  2. 2.

    Of your 3 best friends, how many drink alcohol at least once a month?

  3. 3.

    Of your 3 best friends, how many use marijuana at least once a month?

Social Support

  1. 1.

    How much do you feel that adults care about you?

  2. 2.

    How much do you feel that your teachers care about you?

  3. 3.

    How much do you feel that your parents care about you?

  4. 4.

    How much do you feel that your friends care about you?

  5. 5.

    How much do you feel that people in your family understand you?

  6. 6.

    How much do you feel that you and your family have fun together?

  7. 7.

    How much do you feel that your family pays attention to you?

Delinquency

In the past 12 months, how often did you:

  1. 1.

    Paint graffiti or signs on someone else’s property or in a public place?

  2. 2.

    Deliberately damage property that did not belong to you?

  3. 3.

    Take something from a store without paying for it?

  4. 4.

    Get into a serious physical fight?

  5. 5.

    Hurt someone badly enough to need bandages or care from a doctor or nurse?

  6. 6.

    Drive a car without its owner’s permission?

  7. 7.

    Steal something worth more than $50?

  8. 8.

    Go into a house or building to steal something?

  9. 9.

    Use or threaten to use a weapon to get something from someone?

  10. 10.

    Sell marijuana or other drugs?

  11. 11.

    Steal something worth less than $50?

  12. 12.

    Take part in a fight where a group of your friends was against another group?

During the past 12 months, how often did each of the following things happen?

  1. 1.

    You pulled a gun or knife on someone.

  2. 2.

    You shot or stabbed someone.

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Newsome, J., Sullivan, C.J. Resilience and Vulnerability in Adolescents: Genetic Influences on Differential Response to Risk for Delinquency. J Youth Adolescence 43, 1080–1095 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0108-9

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