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Dr Nick Martin has made enormous contributions to the field of behavior genetics over the past 50 years. Of his many seminal papers that have had a profound impact, we focus on his early work on the power of twin studies. He was among the first to recognize the importance of sample size calculation before conducting a study to ensure sufficient power to detect the effects of interest. The elegant approach he developed, based on the noncentral chi-squared distribution, has been adopted by subsequent researchers for other genetic study designs, and today remains a standard tool for power calculations in structural equation modeling and other areas of statistical analysis. The present brief article discusses the main aspects of his seminal paper, and how it led to subsequent developments, by him and others, as the field of behavior genetics evolved into the present era.
In contrast to many phenotypes that have been studied using twin designs, substance use shows considerable evidence of environmental influence. Accordingly, specifying the relevant environments and understanding the nature of their effects is an important research priority. Twin studies also have demonstrated that the importance of genetic and environmental influences varies across development for a variety of behavioral outcomes, including substance use. Here, we report analyses exploring moderating effects associated with parenting and peer characteristics on adolescent smoking and drinking, measured at ages 14 and 17. We find significant evidence of moderating effects associated with two dimensions of parenting (parental monitoring and time spent in activities with parents) on adolescent smoking, measured at two time points across development, but no moderating effects on adolescent drinking. Genetic influences on smoking increased, and common environmental effects decreased, as adolescents reported less parental monitoring and spending more time with their parents. Conversely, we find evidence that adolescent drinking is more strongly influenced by peer characteristics. The importance of genetic predispositions was increased among adolescents who reported more friends who used alcohol. These analyses illustrate the importance of incorporating measured aspects of the environment into genetically informative twin models to begin to understand how specific environments are related to various outcomes. Furthermore, they illustrate the importance of using a developmental perspective to understand how specific influences may vary across different ages, and across different phenotypes.
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