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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.
The rise of social media use in young people has sparked concern about the impact of cyber-victimisation on mental health. Although cyber-victimisation is associated with mental health problems, it is not known whether such associations reflect genetic and environmental confounding.
We used the co-twin control design to test the direct association between cyber-victimisation and multiple domains of mental health in young people. Participants were 7708 twins drawn from the Twins Early Development Study, a UK-based population cohort followed from birth to age 22.
Monozygotic twins exposed to greater levels of cyber-victimisation had more symptoms of internalising, externalising and psychotic disorders than their less victimised co-twins at age 22, even after accounting for face-to-face peer victimisation and prior mental health. However, effect sizes from the most stringent monozygotic co-twin control analyses were decreased by two thirds from associations at the individual level [pooled β across all mental health problems = 0.06 (95% CI 0.03–0.10) v. 0.17 (95% CI 0.15–0.19) in individual-level analyses].
Cyber-victimisation has a small direct association with multiple mental health problems in young people. However, a large part of the association between cyber-victimisation and mental health is due to pre-existing genetic and environmental vulnerabilities and co-occurring face-to-face victimisation. Therefore, preventative interventions should target cyber-victimisation in conjunction with pre-existing mental health vulnerabilities and other forms of victimisation.
Adolescent psychotic experiences increase risk for schizophrenia and other severe psychopathology in adulthood. Converging evidence implicates urban and adverse neighborhood conditions in the etiology of adolescent psychotic experiences, but the role of young people's personal perceptions of disorder (i.e., physical and social signs of threat) in their neighborhood is unknown. This was examined using data from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally representative birth cohort of 2,232 British twins. Participants were interviewed at age 18 about psychotic phenomena and perceptions of disorder in the neighborhood. Multilevel, longitudinal, and genetically sensitive analyses investigated the association between perceptions of neighborhood disorder and adolescent psychotic experiences. Adolescents who perceived higher levels of neighborhood disorder were significantly more likely to have psychotic experiences, even after accounting for objectively/independently measured levels of crime and disorder, neighborhood- and family-level socioeconomic status, family psychiatric history, adolescent substance and mood problems, and childhood psychotic symptoms: odds ratio = 1.62, 95% confidence interval [1.27, 2.05], p < .001. The phenotypic overlap between adolescent psychotic experiences and perceptions of neighborhood disorder was explained by overlapping common environmental influences, rC = .88, 95% confidence interval [0.26, 1.00]. Findings suggest that early psychological interventions to prevent adolescent psychotic experiences should explore the role of young people's (potentially modifiable) perceptions of threatening neighborhood conditions.
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