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J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2012 Jan;40(1):85-94. doi: 10.1007/s10802-011-9545-z.

Stable genetic influence on anxiety-related behaviours across middle childhood.

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King's College London, MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Box PO80, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.


We examined the aetiology of anxiety symptoms in an unselected population at ages 7 and 9, a period during which anxiety disorders first begin to develop (mean age at onset is 11 years). Specifically, the aim of the study was to investigate genetic and environmental continuity and change in components of anxiety in middle childhood. Parents of over 3,500 twin pairs completed the Anxiety-Related Behaviours Questionnaire (ARBQ) when twins were 7 and 9 years old. Multivariate-longitudinal analyses were conducted to examine genetic and environmental influences on stability and change in four anxiety scales: Negative Cognition, Negative Affect, Fear and Social Anxiety. We found moderate temporal stability in all four scales from 7 to 9 years (correlations ranging from 0.45 to 0.54) and moderate heritability (average 54%). Both shared and non-shared environmental influences were modest (average 18%-28% respectively). Genetic factors (68%) explained most of the homotypic continuity in anxiety. We show that homotypic continuity of Anxiety-Related Behaviours (i.e. the continuation of one specific type of anxiety over time) was largely driven by genetic factors. In contrast, though more varied, heterotypic continuity between some traits (i.e. the change from one type of anxiety-related behaviour into another over time) was mainly due to shared-environmental factors.

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