|Vol. 6, No. 3, 2000 Page 1&6|
Research strongly suggests that minor physical anomalies-subtle abnormalities in the shape of a person's ears, tongue, teeth, etc.-are linked to an increased risk of behavioral and psychiatric problems. A new study, by L. Arseneault and colleagues, hints that these abnormalities also are associated with a greater risk of violent delinquency.
Arseneault et al. recorded the presence or absence of minor physical anomalies in 170 teenage boys from lower-income Montreal neighborhoods. They also measured rates of delinquency, as calculated by self-reports and official crime records. All of the boys were enrolled in a long-term study that began in kindergarten, allowing the researchers to control for family adversity and other factors.
The researchers report that "both the total count of minor physical anomalies and the total count of minor physical anomalies of the mouth were significantly associated with an increased risk of violent delinquency in adolescence, beyond the effects of childhood physical aggression and family adversity." Nonviolent delinquency, in contrast, was not associated with minor physical anomalies.
Minor physical anomalies stem from genetic abnormalities or prenatal insults such as exposure to toxins. Arseneault and colleagues speculate, "Children with a higher count of minor physical anomalies, and especially a higher count of anomalies of the mouth, could be more difficult to socialize for different and additive reasons: they may have neurological deficits, and they may have feeding problems in the first months after birth."
"Minor physical anomalies and family adversity as risk factors for violent delinquency in adolescence," L. Arseneault, R. E. Tremblay, B. Boulerice, J. R. Séguin, and J. F. Saucier, American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 157, No. 6, June 2000, pp. 91 17-923. Address not available.