Heritable influences on behavioral problems from early childhood to mid-adolescence: Evidence for genetic stability and innovation

Gary Lewis, Robert Plomin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Although behavioural problems (e.g. anxiety, conduct, hyperactivity, peer problems) are known to be heritable both in early childhood and in adolescence, limited work has examined prediction across these ages, and none using a genetically informative sample. Method We examined, first, whether parental ratings of behavioural problems (indexed by the Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire) at ages 4, 7, 9, 12, and 16 years were stable across these ages. Second, we examined the extent to which stability reflected genetic or environmental effects through multivariate quantitative genetic analysis on data from a large (n > 3000) population (UK) sample of monozygotic and dizygotic twins. Results Behavioural problems in early childhood (age 4 years) showed significant associations with the corresponding behavioural problem at all subsequent ages. Moreover, stable genetic influences were observed across ages, indicating that biological bases underlying behavioural problems in adolescence are underpinned by genetic influences expressed as early as age 4 years. However, genetic and environmental innovations were also observed at each age. Conclusion These observations indicate that genetic factors are important for understanding stable individual differences in behavioural problems across childhood and adolescence, although novel genetic influences also facilitate change in such behaviours.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2171-2179
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number10
Early online date13 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015

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