Background. Exploration of the degree to which perceived chronic stress is heritable is important as these self-reports have been linked to stress-related health outcomes. The aims of this study were to estimate whether perceived stress is a heritable condition and to assess whether heritability estimates vary between subjective stress reactivity and stress related to external demands.
Method. A sample of 103 monozygotic and 77 dizygotic twin pairs completed three questionnaires designed to measure perceived stress: the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), the Measure for the Assessment of Stress Susceptibility (MESA) and the Trier Inventory for the Assessment of Chronic Stress (TICS). The TICS assesses the frequency of stressful experiences on six scales, the MESA assesses subjective stress reactivity, and the PSS takes both factors into account.
Results. A multivariate model-fitting procedure revealed that a model with common additive genetic and shared environmental factors best fit the eight scales (PSS, MESA, six TICS scales). Heritabilities for the best-fitting model varied between 5% and 45%, depending on the scale.
Conclusions. The present data suggest that perceived stress is in part heritable, that nearly half of the covariance between stress scales is due to genetic factors, and that heritability estimates vary considerably, depending on the questionnaire. Beyond methodological considerations that pertain to the validity of the questionnaires, these data suggest that studies assessing the heritability of perceived chronic stress should take the specific questionnaire focus into account.