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Dev Psychol. 2014 May;50(5):1362-76. doi: 10.1037/a0030725. Epub 2012 Nov 26.

Genetic strategies for probing conscientiousness and its relationship to aging.

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Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University.
Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.


Conscientiousness is an important trait for understanding healthy aging. The present article addresses how behavioral and molecular genetics methodologies can aid in furthering explicating the link between conscientiousness and aspects of health and well-being in later life. We review the etiology of conscientiousness documented by both quantitative and molecular genetics methods. We also discuss the ways behavior genetics can be used to continue to help refine the concept of conscientiousness and to help identify points of etiological overlap between conscientiousness and healthy aging outcomes. Phenotypic research has established nontrivial associations between conscientiousness and important outcomes, but behavior genetic methods can determine what the causal (genetic and environmental) mechanisms are behind these relationships. An empirical example of one of these techniques is provided using twin data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study. We demonstrate that conscientiousness moderates genetic and environmental influences on problem alcohol use, such that greater levels of conscientiousness buffer against the random effects of the environment. Finally, suggestions for future work in this area are discussed.

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