Major Biosocial Project Underway at SHSU


Danielle Boisvert, director of Graduate Studies, is collaborating on a major biosocial study on criminal behavior and substance abuse.

What do heart rate, facial symmetry, DNA, finger measurements, reaction to stress, and hormones have to do with aggression, criminal behavior, and substance abuse?

That is the question that Danielle Boisvert, director of Criminal Justice Graduate Programs, and her colleagues are trying to answer. Drawing from expertise across campus, Boisvert is embarking on a unique study of college students examining the interactive effects of biological factors, genetics, and environment on criminal and aggressive behavior as well as substance abuse.

About 950 undergraduate students participated in a survey, which measured their responses on issues such as self-control, temperament, psychopathy, aggression and stalking. Of the 950 students, about 600 also participated in a bio-lab, which collected heart rate, skin conductance, facial symmetry, finger measurements, cortisol and testosterone saliva samples, and DNA samples. The results from the lab will be used to see how biological factors interact with a host of environmental risk factors affiliated with criminal behavior and substance abuse.

The battery of biological measurements were based on previous biosocial research, which shows correlations among these biological factors and various forms of antisocial behavior. The DNA samples, collected using buccal swabs, will be analyzed for genetic variants within dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin genes, which are key neurochemicals that have been linked to aggression, criminal behavior, and substance abuse. The saliva samples will be analyzed to show hormonal reactions to stress by measuring cortisol and testosterone.

The project is a collaborative effort among several faculty and departments at Sam Houston State University, including Associate Professor David Gangitano and Assistant Professor Sheree Hughes-Stamm in the Department of Forensic Science, along with Assistant Professor James Harper of the Department of Biological Sciences. Graduate and undergraduate students in criminal justice, forensic science, and psychology are involved in the project, including Criminal Justice doctoral students Richard Lewis, Jessica Wells, Matthias Woeckener, Eric Cooke, and Doug Partin; Criminal Justice master’s student Gregory Daniells; Criminal Justice undergraduate students Nicolas Leon and Angelina Batiste; Forensic Science doctoral student Elizabeth Chesna; and Psychology doctoral student Nicholas Kavish. Data from this project will be used in their dissertations, theses, capstone projects, honors contracts, and summer fellowships.

Preliminary results of the study are expected later this year.

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