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Psychol Med. 2019 Jan;49(1):162-169. doi: 10.1017/S0033291718000697. Epub 2018 Apr 2.

The etiology of social aggression: a nuclear twin family study.

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Department of Psychology,Michigan State University,107B Psychology Building,East Lansing,MI 48824,USA.



Social aggression is a form of antisocial behavior in which social relationships and social status are used to damage reputations and inflict emotional harm on others. Despite extensive research examining the prevalence and consequences of social aggression, only a few studies have examined its genetic-environmental etiology, with markedly inconsistent results.


We estimated the etiology of social aggression using the nuclear twin family (NTF) model. Maternal-report, paternal-report, and teacher-report data were collected for twin social aggression (N = 1030 pairs). We also examined the data using the classical twin (CT) model to evaluate whether its strict assumptions may have biased previous heritability estimates.


The best-fitting NTF model for all informants was the ASFE model, indicating that additive genetic, sibling environmental, familial environmental, and non-shared environmental influences significantly contribute to the etiology of social aggression in middle childhood. However, the best-fitting CT model varied across informants, ranging from AE and ACE to CE. Specific heritability estimates for both NTF and CT models also varied across informants such that teacher reports indicated greater genetic influences and father reports indicated greater shared environmental influences.


Although the specific NTF parameter estimates varied across informants, social aggression generally emerged as largely additive genetic (A = 0.15-0.77) and sibling environmental (S = 0.42-0.72) in origin. Such findings not only highlight an important role for individual genetic risk in the etiology of social aggression, but also raise important questions regarding the role of the environment.


Behavior genetics; etiology; nuclear twin family; relational aggression; social aggression; twins


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