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Genetic, environmental, and epigenetic factors in the development of personality disturbance

  • Richard A. Depue (a1)


A dimensional model of personality disturbance is presented that is defined by extreme values on interacting subsets of seven major personality traits. Being at the extreme has marked effects on the threshold for eliciting those traits under stimulus conditions: that is, the extent to which the environment affects the neurobiological functioning underlying the traits. To explore the nature of development of extreme values on these traits, each trait is discussed in terms of three major issues: (a) the neurobiological variables associated with the trait, (b) individual variation in this neurobiology as a function of genetic polymorphisms, and (c) the effects of environmental adversity on these neurobiological variables through the action of epigenetic processes. It is noted that gene–environment interaction appears to be dependent on two main factors: (a) both genetic and environmental variables appear to have the most profound and enduring effects when they exert their effects during early postnatal periods, times when the forebrain is undergoing exuberant experience–expectant dendritic and axonal growth; and (b) environmental effects on neurobiology are strongly modified by individual differences in “traitlike” functioning of neurobiological variables. A model of the nature of the interaction between environmental and neurobiological variables in the development of personality disturbance is presented.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Richard A. Depue, Laboratory of Neurobiology of Temperament and Personality, Department of Human Development, G22 MVR Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853; E-mail:


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