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J Abnorm Psychol. 2013 Nov;122(4):1070-6. doi: 10.1037/a0034238.

Childhood trauma and personality disorder criterion counts: a co-twin control analysis.

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Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics.
Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health.


Correlational studies consistently report relationships between childhood trauma (CT) and most personality disorder (PD) criteria and diagnoses. However, it is not clear whether CT is directly related to PDs or whether common familial factors (i.e., shared environment and/or genetic factors) better account for that relationship. The current study used a cotwin control design to examine support for a direct effect of CT on PD criterion counts. Participants were from the Norwegian Twin Registry (N = 2,780), including a subset (n = 898) of twin pairs (449 pairs, 45% monozygotic [MZ]) discordant for CT meeting DSM-IV Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Criterion A. All participants completed the Norwegian version of the Structured Interview for DSM-IV Personality. Significant associations between CT and all PD criterion counts were detected in the general sample; however, the magnitude of observed effects was small, with CT accounting for no more than approximately 1% of variance in PD criterion counts. A significant, yet modest, interactive effect was detected for sex and CT on Schizoid and Schizotypal PD criterion counts, with CT being related to these disorders among women but not men. After common familial factors were accounted for in the discordant twin sample, CT was significantly related to Borderline and Antisocial PD criterion counts, but no other disorders; however, the magnitude of observed effects was quite modest (r2 = .006 for both outcomes), indicating that the small effect observed in the full sample is likely better accounted for by common genetic and/or environmental factors. CT does not appear to be a key factor in PD etiology.

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