A new study published on the preprint medRxiv* server aims to determine whether individuals with antisocial behaviors (ASB) are more susceptible to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Study: Shared Genomic Architectures of Covid-19 and Antisocial Behavior: Implications During Pandemics. Image Credit: UfaBizPhoto / Shutterstock.com
ASB, which is characterized by aggression, rule-breaking, and violence, can lead to harmful consequences in a society that may include financial, social, and emotional disturbances for countries, communities, and individuals. ASB can also sabotage efforts to solve widespread social problems. For example, in a pandemic situation, individuals with ASB may undermine protective health measures like wearing masks, social distancing, and COVID-19 vaccination.
ASB and health-related traits are partly heritable; therefore, it is plausible that they are genetically correlated.
Previous studies indicate that individuals who engage in ASBs and those with increased psychopathic traits and low levels of empathy more frequently ignored social distancing and containment measures. Thus, a lack of understanding about ASBs and health-related outcomes could jeopardize public health efforts during a pandemic.
Genetic correlation studies
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) help in genetics research by allowing scientists to associate specific variations in the genome with certain diseases. In these studies, genomes from several people are scanned and genetic markers are identified to predict the presence of a disease.
Summary statistics from GWAS of ASBs and different health-related and behavioral traits can be used to estimate genetic correlations. In the current study, the scientists have characterized the shared genomic architecture of ASBs, COVID-19, and related traits by using summary statistics from GWAS.
ASBs, COVID-19, and related traits
The scientists used summary statistics from GWAS and a statistical technique called linkage disequilibrium score regression (LDSC) to quantify the contribution of polygenic effects. All data were from individuals of European ancestry.
The scientists selected a total of 23 traits, including average income, healthspan, parental lifespan, verbal reasoning, having been breastfed as a baby, cheese intake, self-reported happiness, COVID-19, heavy manual labor, noisy workplace, Townsend Deprivation Index (a measure for deprivation), gastrointestinal diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, genitourinary diseases, plays computer games, violent-crime victim, risk tolerance, being a witness to a sudden and/or violent death; education years, seen doctor for nerves, anxiety, tension, or depression, neuroticism, and Parkinson's disease.
ASB genetic correlations
A negative correlation indicates that when the value of a trait is high, the propensity for ASB is low. Comparatively, a positive correlation indicates that when the value of a trait is high, propensity for ASB is also high.
ASB was negatively genetically correlated with nine traits of average income, education years, verbal reasoning, health span and lifespan, breastfed as a baby, cheese intake, happiness, and Parkinson’s disease. Conversely, ASB was positively genetically correlated with 14 traits, including COVID-19, doing heavy manual labor, having a noisy workplace, Townsend Deprivation Index, gastrointestinal diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, genitourinary diseases, neuroticism, seeing a doctor for nerves, anxiety, tension, or depression, plays computer games, being a violent-crime victim, risk tolerance, and seeing a sudden and/or violent death.
COVID-19 genetic correlations
COVID-19 was negatively genetically correlated with six traits of average income, education years, verbal reasoning, health span and lifespan, breastfed as a baby, and cheese intake. Comparatively, COVID-19 was positively correlated with four traits of heavy manual labor, noisy workplace, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and genitourinary diseases.
Individuals who engage in ASBs appear to be more susceptible to COVID-19. This also implies that they may put themselves and others at higher risk of COVID-19. Moreover, health conditions associated with ASBs like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease put these individuals at higher risk of COVID-19.
According to the data presented in this study, policies to increase income and education need to be accelerated during pandemics, as increasing income and education can encourage compliance with prosocial pandemic guidelines.
This study indicates that the aspect of antisociality positively associated with getting COVID-19 does not appear to arise from overt risk-seeking but from a lack of understanding and education about a complex issue. In addition, this study supports previous findings that there is no association between pre-existing mood disorders and susceptibility to COVID-19.
Limitations of the study
- The single nucleotide polymorphism heritability estimates for measures of COVID-19 were small.
- There may be some genetic sources of confounding factors. Correlation does not always indicate causation.
- The direction of causality cannot be determined by genetic correlations alone.
- These findings are limited to those of European ancestry.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.