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Can core genetic liabilities for suicidal behavior be indexed using psychological and neural indicators combined? The current work addressed this question by examining phenotypic and genetic associations of two biobehavioral traits, threat sensitivity (THT) and disinhibition (DIS) – operationalized as psychoneurometric variables (i.e., composites of psychological-scale and neurophysiological measures) – with suicidal behaviors in a sample of adult twins.
Participants were 444 identical and fraternal twins recruited from an urban community. THT was assessed using a psychological-scale measure of fear/fearlessness combined with physiological indicators of reactivity to aversive pictures, and DIS was assessed using scale measures of disinhibitory tendencies combined with indicators of brain response from lab performance tasks. Suicidality was assessed using items from structured interview and questionnaire protocols.
THT and DIS each contributed uniquely to prediction of suicidality when assessed psychoneurometrically (i.e., as composites of scale and neurophysiological indicators). In addition, these traits predicted suicidality interactively, with participants high on both reporting the greatest degree of suicidal behaviors. Biometric (twin-modeling) analyses revealed that a high percentage of the predictive association for each psychoneurometric trait (83% for THT, 68% for DIS) was attributable to genetic variance in common with suicidality.
Findings indicate that psychoneurometric assessments of biobehavioral traits index genetic liability for suicidal behavior, and as such, can serve as innovative targets for research on core biological processes contributing to severe psychopathology, including suicidal proclivities and actions.