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Retrospective self-reports of childhood trauma are associated with a greater risk of psychopathology in adulthood than prospective measures of trauma. Heritable reporter characteristics are anticipated to account for part of this association, whereby genetic predisposition to certain traits influences both the likelihood of self-reporting trauma and of developing psychopathology. However, previous research has not considered how gene–environment correlation influences these associations.
To investigate reporter characteristics associated with retrospective self-reports of childhood trauma and whether these associations are accounted for by gene–environment correlation.
In 3963 unrelated individuals from the Twins Early Development Study, we tested whether polygenic scores for 21 psychiatric, cognitive, anthropometric and personality traits were associated with retrospectively self-reported childhood emotional and physical abuse. To assess the presence of gene–environment correlation, we investigated whether these associations remained after controlling for composite scores of environmental adversity across development.
Retrospectively self-reported childhood trauma was associated with polygenic scores for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), body mass index (BMI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and risky behaviours. When composite scores of environmental adversity were controlled for, only associations with the polygenic scores for ASD and PTSD remained significant.
Genetic predisposition to ASD and PTSD may increase liability to experiencing or interpreting events as traumatic. Associations between genetic predisposition for risky behaviour and BMI with self-reported childhood trauma may reflect gene–environment correlation. Studies of the association between retrospectively self-reported childhood trauma and later-life outcomes should consider that genetically influenced reporter characteristics may confound associations, both directly and through gene–environment correlation.
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