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Common genetic and nonshared environmental factors contribute to the association between socioemotional dispositions and the externalizing factor in children


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.


Background:  Childhood behavioral disorders including conduct disorder (CD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often co-occur. Prior twin research shows that common sets of genetic and environmental factors are associated with these various disorders and they form a latent factor called Externalizing. The developmental propensity model posits that CD develops in part from socioemotional dispositions of Prosociality, Negative Emotionality, and Daring; and recent research has supported the expected genetic and environmental associations between these dispositions and CD. This study examined the developmental propensity model in relation to the broader Externalizing factor that represents the covariance among behavior disorders in children.

Methods:  Parents of 686 six- to twelve-year-old twin pairs rated them on symptoms of CD, ADHD, and ODD using the disruptive behavior disorder scale and on Prosociality, Negative Emotionality, and Daring using the Child and Adolescent Dispositions Scale. A latent factor multivariate Cholesky model was used with each disposition latent factor comprised of respective questionnaire items and the Externalizing factor comprised of symptom dimensions of CD, ADHD inattention, ADHD hyperactivity/impulsivity, and ODD.

Results:  Results supported the hypothesis that the socioemotional dispositions and the Externalizing factor have genetic factors in common, but there was not a single genetic factor associated with all of the constructs. As expected, nonshared environment factors were shared by the dispositions and Externalizing factor but, again, no single nonshared environmental factor was common to all constructs. A shared environmental factor was associated with both Negative Emotionality and Externalizing.

Conclusions:  The developmental propensity model was supported and appears to extend to the broader externalizing spectrum of childhood disorders. Socioemotional dispositions of prosociality, negative emotionality, and (to a lesser extent) daring may contribute to the covariation among behavioral disorders and perhaps to their comorbid expression through common sets of primarily genetic but also environmental factors.