Mechanisms of Gene-Environment Interaction Effects in the Development of Conduct Disorder

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2009 Jul;4(4):408-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01147.x.


The gene-environment interaction effect in the development of conduct disorder is one of the most important discoveries of the past decade, but the mechanisms through which this effect operates remain elusive. I propose a model of these processes that focuses on the individual's response to a threatening stimulus in ongoing social interaction. The individual's response coordinates three interrelated systems: neural, autonomic, and information-processing. In each system, adaptive, evolutionarily selected response patterns characterize normal responding, but in psychopathology these patterns have gone awry. Antecedents of individual differences in these response patterns arise from genetic polymorphisms, adverse environmental experiences early in life, and their interaction. Programs of research are proposed to test hypotheses in the model through longitudinal, experimental, and clinical intervention methods. This model can serve as a template for inquiry in other forms of developmental psychopathology.