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Behav Genet. 2005 Jul;35(4):381-96.

Contributions of genes and environments to stability and change in externalizing and internalizing problems during elementary and middle school.

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  • 1Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA.


We examined longitudinally collected behavioral reports by teachers on a unique twin sample at the ages of 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 years. As twin and adoption studies implicate the role of genetic influence on behavioral problems found to be stable in epidemiological samples, the current study employs a developmental behavior genetic model to examine the extent to which genetic and environmental contributions to problem behaviors are stable and/or change during development. In this sample of 410 monozygotic (MZ) and 354 dizygotic (DZ) twins, MZ twins were rated as more similar than DZ twins on average. In general, boys were more frequently rated as displaying externalizing behaviors than were girls across each of the six observations, while girls' internalizing problems were found not to be significantly different from boys'. For both sexes, stability in externalizing problem behaviors was due to a single common genetic factor whose effects acted pleiotropically at each age in the presence of unique environmental influences that were transmitted from age-to-age. Change was largely due to uncorrelated age-specific non-shared environmental and additive genetic effects. Contributions to stability for internalizing problems were due to age-to-age transmission of earlier expressed genetic effects. Change for girls and boys internalizing problems were largely due to environmental experiences unique to siblings along with uncorrelated age-specific genetic effects. These results further inform the notion that individual environments are important factors in the etiology of problem behaviors, but suggest that heritable contributions to phenotypic stability are largely the same across middle childhood and early adolescence. Clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

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