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Can J Psychiatry. 2001 Apr;46(3):225-33.

Why are children in the same family so different? Nonshared environment a decade later.

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Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, DeCrespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK.



To review recent developments in the study of nonshared environment; that is, the environmental influences that make children growing up in the same family different, rather than similar.


We review several recent influential books and papers on the subject of nonshared environment from the decade following the 1987 paper that highlighted its importance in psychological development.


Modest progress has been made toward identifying the specific aspects of the environment responsible for nonshared environment. Although parents treat their multiple children differently, such differential treatment accounts for only a small amount of nonshared environmental influence, once genetic factors are controlled. It has been suggested that some degree of nonshared environment may be due to the fact that siblings react differently to ostensibly shared environmental influences. Peer influence and other experiences outside the family may be more important sources of systematic nonshared environment.


Despite the difficulties encountered in identifying specific sources of nonshared environment, the fact remains that most environmental variance affecting the development of psychological dimensions and psychiatric disorders is not shared by children growing up in the same family. More research and theory are needed to explain why such siblings are so different. Chance, in the sense of idiosyncratic experiences, also needs to be considered.

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