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Keywords:

  • meta-analysis;
  • twin studies;
  • separation anxiety;
  • genes;
  • environment

Background

Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) and separation anxiety symptoms (SA) have been studied both epidemiologically and genetically; however, large between-studies discrepancies emerge relative to the role of genetic, shared-, and nonshared environmental influences on these conditions.

Methods

Based upon available literature, 18 cohorts and 31,859 subjects belonging to twin samples in Europe, the United States, and Australia were included in three meta-analytic estimations of: the standardized variance components of etiological influences on SAD/SA, and on the effect of sex and rater.

Results

Meta-analytic estimations carried out on all cohorts showed that within-family (genetic 43% and shared environmental 17%) factors explain most of individual differences for SAD/SA. Meta-heritability estimates were higher among females (.52) than males (.26), whereas nonshared environmental effects were stronger for the latter (.74) than for the former (.41). When SAD/SA was rated by parents, the shared environmental influences were higher than those obtained with self-assessment instruments (.23 versus .05), but this may reflect an age difference between subsamples.

Conclusions

A shared environmental effect is present and important in SAD/SA. Our results support at an etiological level the involvement of parents in treating SAD/SA in children, and the provision of specific strategies to parents to manage their own anxiety. Depression and Anxiety 00:1–8, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.