Genes rather than the environment may help explain why some teens are more likely than others to be victimized by crime, says a new study.
The research is believed to be the first to investigate the genetic basis of victimization.
"Victimization can appear to be a purely environmental phenomenon, in which people are randomly victimized for reasons that have nothing to do with their genes," said lead author Kevin M. Beaver of The Florida State University.
"However, because we know that genetically influenced traits such as low self control affect delinquent behavior, and delinquents, particularly violent ones, tend to associate with antisocial peers, I had reasons to suspect that genetic factors could influence the odds of someone becoming a victim of crime, and these formed the basis of our study," he added.
For the study, Beaver analyzed a sample of identical and same-sex fraternal twins drawn from a large, nationally representative sample of male and female adolescents interviewed in 1994 and 1995 for the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.
"Add Health" interviewers had gathered data on participants that included details on family life, social life, romantic relationships, extracurricular activities, drug and alcohol use, and personal victimization.
The data convinced Beaver that genetic factors explained a surprisingly significant 40 to 45 percent of the variance in adolescent victimization among the twins, while non-shared environments explained the remaining variance.
However, among adolescents who were victimized repeatedly, the effect of genetic factors accounted for a whopping 64 percent of the variance.
"It stands to reason that, if genetics are part of the reason why some young people are victimized in the first place, and genetics don't change, there's a good chance these individuals will experience repeat victimization," Beaver said.
The study is to be published in a July 2009 special issue of the journal Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice dealing with biosocial criminology.