Examining associations between genetic and neural risk for externalizing behaviors in adolescence and early adulthood

Psychol Med. 2024 Jan;54(2):267-277. doi: 10.1017/S0033291723001174. Epub 2023 May 19.


Background: Researchers have identified genetic and neural risk factors for externalizing behaviors. However, it has not yet been determined if genetic liability is conferred in part through associations with more proximal neurophysiological risk markers.

Methods: Participants from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism, a large, family-based study of alcohol use disorders were genotyped and polygenic scores for externalizing (EXT PGS) were calculated. Associations with target P3 amplitude from a visual oddball task (P3) and broad endorsement of externalizing behaviors (indexed via self-report of alcohol and cannabis use, and antisocial behavior) were assessed in participants of European (EA; N = 2851) and African ancestry (AA; N = 1402). Analyses were also stratified by age (adolescents, age 12-17 and young adults, age 18-32).

Results: The EXT PGS was significantly associated with higher levels of externalizing behaviors among EA adolescents and young adults as well as AA young adults. P3 was inversely associated with externalizing behaviors among EA young adults. EXT PGS was not significantly associated with P3 amplitude and therefore, there was no evidence that P3 amplitude indirectly accounted for the association between EXT PGS and externalizing behaviors.

Conclusions: Both the EXT PGS and P3 amplitude were significantly associated with externalizing behaviors among EA young adults. However, these associations with externalizing behaviors appear to be independent of each other, suggesting that they may index different facets of externalizing.

Keywords: Externalizing; P3 amplitude; neurophysiology; polygenic score.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism* / genetics
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / genetics
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult