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Antisocial peer affiliation and externalizing disorders: Evidence for Gene × Environment × Development interaction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2016

Diana R. Samek*
Auburn University
Brian M. Hicks
University of Michigan
Margaret A. Keyes
University of Minnesota
William G. Iacono
University of Minnesota
Matt McGue
University of Minnesota
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Diana R. Samek, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Auburn University, 203 Spidle Hall, Auburn, AL 36849; E-mail:


Gene × Environment interaction contributes to externalizing disorders in childhood and adolescence, but little is known about whether such effects are long lasting or present in adulthood. We examined gene–environment interplay in the concurrent and prospective associations between antisocial peer affiliation and externalizing disorders (antisocial behavior and substance use disorders) at ages 17, 20, 24, and 29. The sample included 1,382 same-sex twin pairs participating in the Minnesota Twin Family Study. We detected a Gene × Environment interaction at age 17, such that additive genetic influences on antisocial behavior and substance use disorders were greater in the context of greater antisocial peer affiliation. This Gene × Environment interaction was not present for antisocial behavior symptoms after age 17, but it was for substance use disorder symptoms through age 29 (though effect sizes were largest at age 17). The results suggest adolescence is a critical period for the development of externalizing disorders wherein exposure to greater environmental adversity is associated with a greater expression of genetic risk. This form of Gene × Environment interaction may persist through young adulthood for substance use disorders, but it appears to be limited to adolescence for antisocial behavior.

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