July 15, 2005 Science Magazine |
Monkey See, Monkey Abuse
Rhesus macaques are supplying clues about how abusive behavior passes from
parents to their children, with a new study suggesting that the link is
environmental, not genetic.
Like humans, rhesus macaques that are abused as infants are more likely to
become abusive parents, tossing, crushing, and biting their offspring. The
monkey-human parallels piqued the interest of Dario Maestripieri, a behavioral
biologist at the University of Chicago.
Maestripieri housed 14 female infants with adoptive mothers, some abusive and
others not. Seventeen other monkeys stayed with their biological mothers, some
of whom were abusive. He followed them for 5 years. The result: Being raised by
an abusive mother, adoptive or not, made a difference in their behavior as
adults. Nine of 16 infants cared for by abusive mothers became abusive parents,
whereas none of those paired with nonabusive mothers did. The study appeared in
the 27 June online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Still, the study doesn't rule out genetics, says Joseph McClay, a geneticist at
the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in Richmond.
Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to become abusive, he says, and
the trait may be exacerbated by early environmental influences.
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