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Genetics and Developmental Psychopathology: 2. The Main Effects of Genes and Environment on Behavioral Problems in the Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development

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Requests for reprints to: Dr Lindon Eaves, PO Box 980003, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond VA 23298–0003, U.S.A.

Abstract

Little is known about the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to risk for juvenile psychopathology. The Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development allows these contributions to be estimated. A population-based, unselected sample of 1412 Caucasian twin pairs aged 8–16 years was ascertained through Virginia schools. Assessment of the children involved semi-structured face-to-face interviews with both twins and both parents using the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment (CAPA). Self-report questionnaires were also completed by parents, children, and teachers. Measures assessed DSM-III-R symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Overanxious Disorder, Separation Anxiety, and Depressive Disorder. Factorially derived questionnaire scales were also extracted. Scores were normalized and standardized by age and sex. Maximum likelihood methods were used to estimate contributions of additive and nonadditive genetic effects, the shared and unique environment, and sibling imitation or contrast effects. Estimates were tested for heterogeneity over sexes. Generally, monozygotic (MZ) twins correlated more highly than dizygotic (DZ) twins, parental ratings more than child ratings, and questionnaire scales more highly than interviews. DZ correlations were very low for measures of ADHD and DZ variances were greater than MZ variances for these variables. Correlations sometimes differed between sexes but those for boy-girl pairs were usually similar to those for like-sex pairs. Most of the measures showed small to moderate additive genetic effects and moderate to large effects of the unique individual environment. Measures of ADHD and related constructs showed marked sibling contrast effects. Some measures of oppositional behavior and conduct disorder showed shared environmental effects. There were marked sex differences in the genetic contribution to separation anxiety, otherwise similar genetic effects appear to be expressed in boys and girls. Effects of rater biases on the genetic analysis are considered. The study supports a widespread influence of genetic factors on risk to adolescent psychopathology and suggests that the contribution of different types of social influence may vary consistently across domains of measurement.

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