Genetic contributions to social impulsivity and aggressiveness in vervet monkeys

Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Mar 15;55(6):642-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2003.12.005.


Background: Impulsivity contributes to multiple psychiatric disorders and sociobehavioral problems, and the more serious consequences of impulsivity are typically manifest in social situations. This study assessed the genetic contribution to impulsivity and aggressiveness in a social context using a nonhuman primate model.

Methods: Subjects were 352 adolescent and adult vervet monkeys from an extended multigenerational pedigree. Behavior was assessed in the Intruder Challenge Test, a standardized test that measures impulsivity and aggressiveness toward a stranger. Genetic and maternal contributions to variation in the Social Impulsivity Index and its two subscales, impulsive approach and aggression, were estimated using variance components analyses.

Results: The results found significant genetic contributions to social impulsivity (h2 =.35 +/-.11) and to each of the subscales, with no significant influence of maternal environment. There was a high genetic correlation between the impulsive approach and aggression subscales (rho =.78 +/-.12).

Conclusions: This is the first study to demonstrate heritability of social impulsivity in adolescents and adults for any nonhuman primate species. The high genetic correlation suggests the same genes may influence variation in both impulsive approach and aggression. These results provide a promising basis for identification of susceptibility loci for impulsivity and aggressiveness.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Impulsive Behavior / genetics*
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Personality Assessment
  • Psychological Tests
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior*