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Keywords:

  • Behavioral problems;
  • strengths and difficulties;
  • personality;
  • genetics;
  • twins

Background

Understanding the etiology of adolescent problem behavior has been of enduring interest. Only relatively recently, however, has this issue been examined within a normal personality trait framework. Research suggests that problem behaviors in adolescence and beyond may be adequately explained by the taxonomy provided by the basic dimensions of normal personality: Such problem behaviors are suggested to be extreme points on a distribution of the full range of the underlying traits. We extend work in this field examining the extent to which genetic factors underlying the five-factor model of personality are common with genetic influences on adolescent behavior problems (namely, anxiety, peer problems, conduct, hyperactivity, and low prosociality).

Method

A nationally representative twin sample (Twins Early Development Study) from the general population of England and Wales, including 2031 pairs of twins aged 16 years old, was used to decompose variation into genetic and environmental components. Behavioral problems in adolescence were assessed by self-report with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.

Results

Adolescent behavior problems were moderately associated with normal personality: Specifically, a fifth to a third of phenotypic variance in problem behaviors was accounted for by five-factor model personality traits. Of central importance here, genetic influences underpinning personality were entirely overlapping with those genetic factors underlying adolescent behavior problems.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that adolescent behavior problems can be understood, at least in part, within a model of normal personality trait variation, with the genetic bases of these behavior problems the same as those genetic influences underpinning normal personality.