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Am J Public Health. 2013 Oct;103 Suppl 1:S46-55. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301252. Epub 2013 Aug 8.

Critical need for family-based, quasi-experimental designs in integrating genetic and social science research.

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Brian M. D'Onofrio is with Indiana University, Bloomington. Benjamin B. Lahey is with the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Eric Turkheimer is with the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Paul Lichtenstein is with the Karolinska Institutet, Solna, Sweden.


Researchers have identified environmental risks that predict subsequent psychological and medical problems. Based on these correlational findings, researchers have developed and tested complex developmental models and have examined biological moderating factors (e.g., gene-environment interactions). In this context, we stress the critical need for researchers to use family-based, quasi-experimental designs when trying to integrate genetic and social science research involving environmental variables because these designs rigorously examine causal inferences by testing competing hypotheses. We argue that sibling comparison, offspring of twins or siblings, in vitro fertilization designs, and other genetically informed approaches play a unique role in bridging gaps between basic biological and social science research. We use studies on maternal smoking during pregnancy to exemplify these principles.

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