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Psychol Med. 2015 Jan;45(2):333-44. doi: 10.1017/S0033291714001445. Epub 2014 Jun 23.

Gene-environment interplay between parent-child relationship problems and externalizing disorders in adolescence and young adulthood.

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Department of Psychology,University of Minnesota,Minneapolis, MN,USA.
Department of Psychiatry,University of Michigan,Ann Arbor, MI,USA.
Social Development Research Group,University of Washington,Seattle, WA,USA.



Previous studies have shown that genetic risk for externalizing (EXT) disorders is greater in the context of adverse family environments during adolescence, but it is unclear whether these effects are long lasting. The current study evaluated developmental changes in gene-environment interplay in the concurrent and prospective associations between parent-child relationship problems and EXT at ages 18 and 25 years.


The sample included 1382 twin pairs (48% male) from the Minnesota Twin Family Study, participating in assessments at ages 18 years (mean = 17.8, s.d. = 0.69 years) and 25 years (mean = 25.0, s.d. = 0.90 years). Perceptions of parent-child relationship problems were assessed using questionnaires. Structured interviews were used to assess symptoms of adult antisocial behavior and nicotine, alcohol and illicit drug dependence.


We detected a gene-environment interaction at age 18 years, such that the genetic influence on EXT was greater in the context of more parent-child relationship problems. This moderation effect was not present at age 25 years, nor did parent-relationship problems at age 18 years moderate genetic influence on EXT at age 25 years. Rather, common genetic influences accounted for this longitudinal association.


Gene-environment interaction evident in the relationship between adolescent parent-child relationship problems and EXT is both proximal and developmentally limited. Common genetic influence, rather than a gene-environment interaction, accounts for the long-term association between parent-child relationship problems at age 18 years and EXT at age 25 years. These results are consistent with a relatively pervasive importance of gene-environmental correlation in the transition from late adolescence to young adulthood.


Adolescence; externalizing behaviors; gene–environment correlation; gene–environment interaction; parent–child relationship quality

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