Genetic Influence on Psychological Disorders

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  • 0:07 Psychopathology and Genetics
  • 1:10 Schizophrenia
  • 2:23 Antisocial Personality…
  • 4:18 Eating Disorders
  • 5:08 What Does This Mean?
  • 5:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Do genetics play a role in psychological disorders such as schizophrenia? What do we know about any genetic links? Does environment matter? Find the answers to these questions and more in this video lesson.

Psychopathology and Genetics

Meet Jim. Jim is very self-conscious about his weight. He thinks he is fat even though he is 5'11' and weighs only 98 pounds. He often starves himself in attempts to become thin. Jim's behavior is a psychopathology, or a deviation from normal behavior or mental processes. A more literal translation would be 'a mental illness.' Now meet Jim's daughter Joey. What are the chances that Joey will have the same psychopathology as her father?

You may have some questions of your own that you would like answers to before you form an opinion. For instance, you may want to know how much contact Joey has with her father or if she is being raised in the same environment. While the answers to these questions may be important, you may find it interesting to know that, regardless of the answers, Joey's chances of having a similar psychopathology to her father increase simply because of her DNA. Let's explore some examples of psychopathology that have been shown to have a genetic link.


Schizophrenia is a psychopathology characterized by severely impaired thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Imagine Fred is adopted. Fred's biological mother had schizophrenia. The adoptive parents have no family history of the disorder or any similar disorders. Does Fred have a higher than normal risk of developing schizophrenia?

Adoption studies have shown that a high percentage of adopted children whose birth parents suffered from schizophrenia also suffered from schizophrenia or associated conditions. Adopted children who did not have parents who suffered from schizophrenia were very seldom diagnosed with the disorder. This information means that adoption studies have demonstrated a genetic link to schizophrenia. So the answer to our question is yes, Fred has a higher-than-normal risk of developing schizophrenia.

One challenge in the study of schizophrenia's genetic link is that no gene has been identified as responsible for the disorder. Researchers are also not exactly sure how this gene may contribute to a person's risk for schizophrenia or what causes it to be expressed. A great deal of work remains to be done.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a disregard for the rights, feelings, and safety of others. Antisocial personality disorder has been shown to have a genetic link through family studies and adoption studies. Many adoption studies have attempted to determine the degree to which genetics play a role in antisocial personality disorder. Will adopted children who are placed in a different environment be protected from developing the disorder? Or will they remain at a higher risk for antisocial behavior?

Imagine Martha is adopted. Her biological mother had antisocial personality disorder. Martha has a brother who was adopted as well. He does not have a family history of antisocial personality disorder. Is Martha more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder than her brother?

Researchers have found out that this is a tricky question. The simple answer is yes since there's a genetic link to antisocial personality disorder. However, the strength of the genetic link is difficult to identify. For example, antisocial personality disorder is often identified in studies as a criminal background. Is this always a fair assumption? Does lack of a criminal background mean that there's no history of antisocial personality disorder?

Interpreting the results of these adoption studies can also be clouded by the fact that these children are often adopted later in life. This means that they have had early exposure to environmental influences that could contribute to the development of antisocial personality disorder. They are also more often placed in adoptive families with an environment similar to that of their biological parent. All of these complications make it difficult for researchers to fully understand which factor, environment or genetics, has the most effect in determining antisocial personality disorder.

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