Gene Function is Responsive to Social Interaction: Implications for Practice

Dr. Brenda Adams

     Recent research indicates gene function is responsive to social interaction! In fact, the field of epigenetics reveals dynamic interplay at the level of gene expression, and there has been an explosion in research examining interactions between common genetic variations and social environments. Researchers studying responses to adverse environments have claimed those carrying certain common genetic variations involved in neurotransmitter function are more vulnerable to adversity. However, hidden stories in the data suggest a larger and more hopeful picture.

     Research examining responses to wider ranges of environments, including supportive social responses, suggests those characterized as vulnerable in earlier studies are actually more responsive to both adversity and supportive social contexts. Thus, those most likely to suffer or demonstrate aggression following exposure to adversity may also be most likely to benefit from supportive interventions and to thrive in favourable conditions. These findings have profound implications for social responses to violence, yet little information has reached front-line workers.

     This presentation highlights recent gene-environment and epigenetic research and proposes implications for therapy and other social responses to those who have experienced or perpetrated violence.