Some Children May Be Genetically Predisposed to Victimization

Childhood maltreatment and adversity have been shown to affect cortisol reactivity and stress responses. That means people who have experienced negative life events in childhood, such as childhood sexual abuse or neglect, are likely to have disrupted stress responses and reactivity. Moreover, children with a history of maltreatment are more likely to exhibit internalizing or externalizing problems than those with no history of maltreatment.

But are people genetically predisposed to victimization? Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, PhD, of the Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, wanted to explore whether some people are genetically predisposed to stress reactivity via a unique serotonin transporter gene (SERT) promoter that affects cortisol response. Using a sample of 28 pairs of twin children, Ouellet-Morin evaluated their SERT DNA and assessed how it differed between one person in the twin set who was bullied, and the other, who had not been bullied.

She found that the children who were bullied at age 10 had higher levels of SERT DNA changes that reduced cortisol responses. When she looked at these same levels prior to victimization, she found that these levels increased more in the twins who would later be bullied when compared to those who did not report subsequent bullying. This suggests that the bullied children may have had a genetic predisposition to stress reactivity that could have made them more vulnerable to bullying.

Existing research on SERT DNA and cortisol responses shows that similar patterns are evident in adults with a history of abuse and that this hormonal process is associated with antisocial behavior, posttraumatic stress, and depression. Ouellet-Morin believes that these results support the existing data on SERT DNA, and demonstrate that even in early childhood, prior to reported victimization, genetic risk factors may exist in some people.

She added, “This epigenetic mechanism may serve as an interface between childhood victimization, later vulnerability to stress and psychopathology.” Although these results are significant, the sample sized used in this study is small and future work should examine larger samples and explore other factors that could influence these outcomes.

Ouellet-Morin, I., et al. (2013). Increased serotonin transporter gene (SERT) DNA methylation is associated with bullying victimization and blunted cortisol response to stress in childhood: A longitudinal study of discordant monozygotic twins. Psychological Medicine 43.9 (2013): 1813-23. ProQuest. Web.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Allie

    September 6th, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    But couldn’t there be some other environmental factors at play that could mimic genetic predisposition, making it look like this was the cas when in fact it is something else causing this?

  • Allie

    September 7th, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    Sorry but after I posed the one question I also thought of another. Do you also think that by saying this that you could then be setting up someone perfectly innocent for a lifetime of being a victim even if this is not their fate just by causing them to believe that it is?

  • bennett

    September 10th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    I think that I agree with Allie. I am not one to think that genetically we are hard wired to become a victim. Now I do believe that the environment that we are raised in plays a huge role in who we become and what we end up making of our lives, and this could very well steer us to the life of being a victim. This might be the life we see our parents leading or this may be the role we carve out for ourselves very early and find it hard to break out of. I do believe that. But to say that we come out of the womb a victim or not? That’s a little bit more of a leap for me than I am personally willing to take at this point.

  • Dr. Gladys Di Maio

    September 12th, 2013 at 6:32 AM

    It is beleived that when a child has
    Been a victim of sexual or physical
    abuse the child may suffer the trauma.
    That is the reason why psychotherapy
    Is very important , to lessen the abuse.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.