After emigrating with his parents at aged 10 to the Isle of Wight, he first decided that he wanted to be a psychiatrist at the age of 16 after coming across Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, in a local public library. He attended medical school at the University of Leeds, England where he graduated in 1972 and then received postgraduate training in internal medicine. It was at this stage that he became interested in genetics and had his first publications on immunogenetic aspects of coronary heart disease. He transferred this interest to psychiatric disorders and carried out one of the first genetic marker association studies on schizophrenia.
He completed his training as a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, London and was awarded a Medical Research Council Fellowship to study genetics at the University of London and at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. He subsequently became an MRC Senior Clinical Fellow at the Maudsley and the Institute of Psychiatry (now part of King's College London) and then took up the Chair of Psychological Medicine at the University of Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff in 1987. He succeeded Prof Sir Michael Rutter as Director of the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry in October 1998. From January 2007 to December 2009, he was the Dean of the Institute of Psychiatry.  He was elected a founder Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1998.
Despite his very early Freudian leanings, McGuffin’s research, his books and papers have been mainly on the genetics of normal and abnormal behaviour.
- Behavioral Genetics in the Postgenomic Era, by Robert Plomin, John C. DeFries, Ian W. Craig, and Peter McGuffin
- Behavioral Genetics by John C. DeFries, Peter McGuffin, Gerald E. McClearn, and Robert Plomin
- Beyond Nature and Nurture in Psychiatry, by James MacCabe, Owen O'Daly, Robin Murray, and Peter McGuffin
- Psychiatric Genetics and Genomics, by Peter McGuffin, Michael J. Owen, and Irving I. Gottesman
- Measuring Psychopathology, by Anne Farmer, Peter McGuffin, and Julie Williams
- The New Genetics of Mental Illness, by Peter McGuffin and Robin Murray
- Schizophrenia: The Major Issues, by Paul Bebbington and Peter McGuffin
- The Essentials of Psychiatry, by Robin Murray, Ken Kendler, Peter McGuffin, and Simon Wessely
- McGuffin, P.; Farmer, A. E.; Rajah, S. M. (1978). "Histocompatability [sic] antigens and schizophrenia". British Journal of Psychiatry. 132 (2): 149. doi:10.1192/bjp.132.2.149.
- "Professor Peter McGuffin". Institute of Psychiatry. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
- "No. 61608". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2016. p. B9.
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