• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Monday 14th February, 2011

Born under a bad sign? Not likely!

“Accident prone” is something of an oxymoron. “Accidents” are chance events, so how can anyone be prone to them? Yet the term persists; and we all know people who seem to have more than their fair share of injuries. Or might it be that we are only being polite when we say “accident”. Perhaps we really believe that some trait – innate or learned – causes some people to live hapless lives.In developed countries, accidents kill more children than disease, abuse, or any other cause. Is the problem that some children are “accident prone”? More specifically, are they born with certain tendencies – aggression, hyperactivity, impulsiveness – that make injury more likely? Despite the importance of understanding the causes of childhood accidents, the research is patchy. So the recent investigation by Juan R. Ordonana of the University of Murcia in Spain and Avshalom Caspi and Terrie E. Moffitt of King’s College in the UK and Duke University in the US is notable, not only for bringing genetics to bear on ideas about chance, but also simply for existing.They examined data collected about 1,027 twin pairs in England and Wales for information about how many serious unintentional injuries (ie. those requiring medical attention) they had experienced during their first five years of life. To determine if some children are born more “accident prone” than others, they compared identical twins (who are genetic duplicates of one another) to fraternal twins (who share, on average, only 50 percent of their genes). If the identical twins were more similar to each other than were fraternal twins, it would suggest that genetics play an important part in causing some children to have more accidents. However, the findings did not suggest that genes were important determinants of injuries. The children’s circumstances tended to be more strongly associated with accidents. Children living in poverty and with young mothers, for example, were more likely to be injured than other children. And boys were more “accident prone” than girls. So the researchers conclude that rather than spending time trying to identify “accident prone” kids and protecting them, we should work on making schools and homes safer for all children, and perhaps particularly for disadvantaged children. Summary of “Unintentional Injuries in a Twin Study of Preschool Children: Environmental, Not Genetic, Risk Factors” by Juan R. Ordonana, Avshalom Caspi, and Terrie E. Moffitt in Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2008, Volume 33, Number 2, pp. 185-194.

Back to Archives