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The DNA revolution has energized research on interactions between genes and environments (GxE) by creating indices of G (polygenic scores) that are powerful predictors of behavioral traits. Here, we test the extent to which polygenic scores for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and neuroticism moderate associations between parent reports of their children’s environmental risk (E) at ages 3 and 4 and teacher ratings of behavior problems (hyperactivity/inattention, conduct problems, emotional symptoms, and peer relationship problems) at ages 7, 9 and 12. The sampling frame included up to 6687 twins from the Twins Early Development Study. Our analyses focused on relative effect sizes of G, E and GxE in predicting behavior problems. G, E and GxE predicted up to 2%, 2% and 0.4%, respectively, of the variance in externalizing behavior problems (hyperactivity/inattention and conduct problems) across ages 7, 9 and 12, with no clear developmental trends. G and E predictions of emotional symptoms and peer relationship problems were weaker. A quarter (12 of 48) of our tests of GxE were nominally significant (p = .05). Increasing the predictive power of G and E would enhance the search for GxE.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all our lives, not only through the infection itself but also through the measures taken to control the spread of the virus (e.g. lockdown).
Here, we investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented lockdown affected the mental health of young adults in England and Wales.
We compared the mental health symptoms of up to 4773 twins in their mid-20s in 2018 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (T1) and during four-wave longitudinal data collection during the pandemic in April, July and October 2020, and in March 2021 (T2–T5) using phenotypic and genetic longitudinal designs.
The average changes in mental health were small to medium and mainly occurred from T1 to T2 (average Cohen d = 0.14). Despite the expectation of catastrophic effects of the pandemic on mental health, we did not observe trends in worsening mental health during the pandemic (T3–T5). Young people with pre-existing mental health problems were disproportionately affected at the beginning of the pandemic, but their increased problems largely subsided as the pandemic persisted. Twin analyses indicated that the aetiology of individual differences in mental health symptoms did not change during the lockdown (average heritability 33%); the average genetic correlation between T1 and T2–T5 was 0.95, indicating that genetic effects before the pandemic were substantially correlated with genetic effects up to a year later.
We conclude that on average the mental health of young adults in England and Wales has been remarkably resilient to the effects of the pandemic and associated lockdown.
The purpose of this update is to provide the most current information about both the Colorado Adoption Project (CAP) and the Longitudinal Twin Study (LTS) and to introduce the Colorado Adoption/Twin Study of Lifespan behavioral development and cognitive aging (CATSLife), a product of their merger and a unique study of lifespan behavioral development and cognitive aging. The primary objective of CATSLife is to assess the unique saliency of early childhood genetic and environmental factors to adult cognitive maintenance and change, as well as proximal influences and innovations that emerge across development. CATSLife is currently assessing up to 1600 individuals on the cusp of middle age, targeting those between 30 and 40 years of age. The ongoing CATSLife data collection is described as well as the longitudinal data available from the earlier CAP and LTS assessments. We illustrate CATSLife via current projects and publications, highlighting the measurement of genetic, biochemical, social, sociodemographic and environmental indices, including geospatial features, and their impact on cognitive maintenance in middle adulthood. CATSLife provides an unparalleled opportunity to assess prospectively the etiologies of cognitive change and test the saliency of early childhood versus proximal influences on the genesis of cognitive decline.
The Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) is a longitudinal twin study that recruited over 16,000 twin-pairs born between 1994 and 1996 in England and Wales through national birth records. More than 10,000 of these families are still engaged in the study. TEDS was and still is a representative sample of the population in England and Wales. Rich cognitive and emotional/behavioral data have been collected from the twins from infancy to emerging adulthood, with data collection at first contact and at ages 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 21, enabling longitudinal genetically sensitive analyses. Data have been collected from the twins themselves, from their parents and teachers, and from the UK National Pupil Database. Genotyped DNA data are available for 10,346 individuals (who are unrelated except for 3320 dizygotic co-twins). TEDS data have contributed to over 400 scientific papers involving more than 140 researchers in 50 research institutions. TEDS offers an outstanding resource for investigating cognitive and behavioral development across childhood and early adulthood and actively fosters scientific collaborations.
The Children of the Twins Early Development Study (CoTEDS) is a new prospective children-of-twins study in the UK, designed to investigate intergenerational associations across child developmental stages. CoTEDS will enable research on genetic and environmental factors that underpin parent–child associations, with a focus on mental health and cognitive-related traits. Through CoTEDS, we will have a new lens to examine the roles that parents play in influencing child development, as well as the genetic and environmental factors that shape parenting behavior and experiences. Recruitment is ongoing from the sample of approximately 20,000 contactable adult twins who have been enrolled in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) since infancy. TEDS twins are invited to register all offspring to CoTEDS at birth, with 554 children registered as of May 2019. By recruiting the second generation of TEDS participants, CoTEDS will include information on adult twins and their offspring from infancy. Parent questionnaire-based data collection is now underway for 1- and 2-year-old CoTEDS infants, with further waves of data collection planned. Current data collection includes the following primary constructs: child mental health, temperament, language and cognitive development; parent mental health and social relationships; parenting behaviors and feelings; and other socioecological factors. Measurement tools have been selected with reference to existing genetically informative cohort studies to ensure overlap in phenotypes measured at corresponding stages of development. This built-in study overlap is intended to enable replication and triangulation of future analyses across samples and research designs. Here, we summarize study protocols and measurement procedures and describe future plans.
Maternal smoking during pregnancy (MSDP) has been linked to offspring's externalizing problems. It has been argued that socio-demographic factors (e.g. maternal age and education), co-occurring environmental risk factors, or pleiotropic genetic effects may account for the association between MSDP and later outcomes. This study provides a comprehensive investigation of the association between MSDP and a single harmonized component of externalizing: aggressive behaviour, measured throughout childhood and adolescence.
Data came from four prospective twin cohorts – Twins Early Development Study, Netherlands Twin Register, Childhood and Adolescent Twin Study of Sweden, and FinnTwin12 study – who collaborate in the EU-ACTION consortium. Data from 30 708 unrelated individuals were analysed. Based on item level data, a harmonized measure of aggression was created at ages 9–10; 12; 14–15 and 16–18.
MSDP predicted aggression in childhood and adolescence. A meta-analysis across the four samples found the independent effect of MSDP to be 0.4% (r = 0.066), this remained consistent when analyses were performed separately by sex. All other perinatal factors combined explained 1.1% of the variance in aggression across all ages and samples (r = 0.112). Paternal smoking and aggressive parenting strategies did not account for the MSDP-aggression association, consistent with the hypothesis of a small direct link between MSDP and aggression.
Perinatal factors, including MSDP, account for a small portion of the variance in aggression in childhood and adolescence. Later experiences may play a greater role in shaping adolescents’ aggressive behaviour.
Three formative experiences in my life primed me for what I like to think is my most important scientific contribution: bringing genetics into the mainstream of psychology. First, when I was in fourth grade in an elementary Catholic school in Chicago, I was suspended from school because of a book I innocently brought to class for a show-and-tell assignment. The book was about Darwin's voyage on the Beagle; at that time, evolution was not mentioned in Catholic schools because it was considered to be a mortal sin to believe in evolution. To my mind, evolution seemed an idea that was beautiful and obviously true. The religious opposition, coupled with my stubbornness, planted a genetics seed in my mind.
Second, when I was a philosophy major at DePaul University in Chicago, I kept trying to think of testable hypotheses to solve disputes in philosophy, until I realized that if you can come up with a testable hypothesis, it's no longer philosophy – it's psychology. This realization made me switch my major to psychology, and it primed me to stay close to data. (My most overused phrase is “it's empirical.”)
The third experience occurred when I went to graduate school in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin in 1970, which, unknown to me when I accepted their offer, had the only graduate program in behavioral genetics in the world. I was completely bowled over by a required course in behavioral genetics about early animal and human studies that suggested substantial genetic influence on many aspects of psychology. Genetics had not been mentioned in my other classes until then, and I was excited to get a first glimpse of the potential impact of this new way of thinking about psychology and society.
As I learned more about psychology, I saw that genetics was generally ignored or even abhorred. The environment was thought to be completely responsible for individual differences in psychological traits – for example, why some children are shy, why some find it difficult to read, and why some are autistic. During the past few decades, my research, and the research of others in the small field of behavioral genetics, has shown that genetics can no longer be ignored.
We analyzed birth order differences in means and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins from infancy to old age. The data were derived from the international CODATwins database. The total number of height and BMI measures from 0.5 to 79.5 years of age was 397,466. As expected, first-born twins had greater birth weight than second-born twins. With respect to height, first-born twins were slightly taller than second-born twins in childhood. After adjusting the results for birth weight, the birth order differences decreased and were no longer statistically significant. First-born twins had greater BMI than the second-born twins over childhood and adolescence. After adjusting the results for birth weight, birth order was still associated with BMI until 12 years of age. No interaction effect between birth order and zygosity was found. Only limited evidence was found that birth order influenced variances of height or BMI. The results were similar among boys and girls and also in MZ and DZ twins. Overall, the differences in height and BMI between first- and second-born twins were modest even in early childhood, while adjustment for birth weight reduced the birth order differences but did not remove them for BMI.
A trend toward greater body size in dizygotic (DZ) than in monozygotic (MZ) twins has been suggested by some but not all studies, and this difference may also vary by age. We analyzed zygosity differences in mean values and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) among male and female twins from infancy to old age. Data were derived from an international database of 54 twin cohorts participating in the COllaborative project of Development of Anthropometrical measures in Twins (CODATwins), and included 842,951 height and BMI measurements from twins aged 1 to 102 years. The results showed that DZ twins were consistently taller than MZ twins, with differences of up to 2.0 cm in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.9 cm in adulthood. Similarly, a greater mean BMI of up to 0.3 kg/m2 in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.2 kg/m2 in adulthood was observed in DZ twins, although the pattern was less consistent. DZ twins presented up to 1.7% greater height and 1.9% greater BMI than MZ twins; these percentage differences were largest in middle and late childhood and decreased with age in both sexes. The variance of height was similar in MZ and DZ twins at most ages. In contrast, the variance of BMI was significantly higher in DZ than in MZ twins, particularly in childhood. In conclusion, DZ twins were generally taller and had greater BMI than MZ twins, but the differences decreased with age in both sexes.
For over 100 years, the genetics of human anthropometric traits has attracted scientific interest. In particular, height and body mass index (BMI, calculated as kg/m2) have been under intensive genetic research. However, it is still largely unknown whether and how heritability estimates vary between human populations. Opportunities to address this question have increased recently because of the establishment of many new twin cohorts and the increasing accumulation of data in established twin cohorts. We started a new research project to analyze systematically (1) the variation of heritability estimates of height, BMI and their trajectories over the life course between birth cohorts, ethnicities and countries, and (2) to study the effects of birth-related factors, education and smoking on these anthropometric traits and whether these effects vary between twin cohorts. We identified 67 twin projects, including both monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, using various sources. We asked for individual level data on height and weight including repeated measurements, birth related traits, background variables, education and smoking. By the end of 2014, 48 projects participated. Together, we have 893,458 height and weight measures (52% females) from 434,723 twin individuals, including 201,192 complete twin pairs (40% monozygotic, 40% same-sex dizygotic and 20% opposite-sex dizygotic) representing 22 countries. This project demonstrates that large-scale international twin studies are feasible and can promote the use of existing data for novel research purposes.
The momentum of genomic science will carry it far into the future and into the heart of research on typical and atypical behavioral development. The purpose of this paper is to focus on a few implications and applications of these advances for understanding behavioral development. Quantitative genetics is genomic and will chart the course for molecular genomic research now that these two worlds of genetics are merging in the search for many genes of small effect. Although current attempts to identify specific genes have had limited success, known as the missing heritability problem, whole-genome sequencing will improve this situation by identifying all DNA sequence variations, including rare variants. Because the heritability of complex traits is caused by many DNA variants of small effect in the population, polygenic scores that are composites of hundreds or thousands of DNA variants will be used by developmentalists to predict children's genetic risk and resilience. The most far-reaching advance will be the widespread availability of whole-genome sequence for children, which means that developmentalists would no longer need to obtain DNA or to genotype children in order to use genomic information in research or in the clinic.
Little is known about how genetic and environmental factors contribute to the association between parental negativity and behavior problems from early childhood to adolescence. The current study fitted a cross-lagged model in a sample consisting of 4,075 twin pairs to explore (a) the role of genetic and environmental factors in the relationship between parental negativity and behavior problems from age 4 to age 12, (b) whether parent-driven and child-driven processes independently explain the association, and (c) whether there are sex differences in this relationship. Both phenotypes showed substantial genetic influence at both ages. The concurrent overlap between them was mainly accounted for by genetic factors. Causal pathways representing stability of the phenotypes and parent-driven and child-driven effects significantly and independently account for the association. Significant but slight differences were found between males and females for parent-driven effects. These results were highly similar when general cognitive ability was added as a covariate. In summary, the longitudinal association between parental negativity and behavior problems seems to be bidirectional and mainly accounted for by genetic factors. Furthermore, child-driven effects were mainly genetically mediated, and parent-driven effects were a function of both genetic and shared-environmental factors.
The Russian School Twin Registry (RSTR) was established in 2012, supported by a grant from the Government of the Russian Federation. The main aim of the registry is to contribute to Progress in Education through Gene-Environment Studies (PROGRESS). The formation of the registry is ongoing and it is expected that most schools in the Russian Federation (approximately 50,000 schools) will contribute data to the registry. With a total of 13.7 million students in Grades 1–11 (ages 7–18), the potential number of twin pairs exceeds 100,000. Apart from the large sample size and its representative nature, the RSTR has one unique feature: in collaboration with the International Advisory Committee to the Registry, genetically sensitive cross-cultural investigations are planned, aided by the use of the common assessment instruments. Other strengths of the registry include the assessment of a large sample of non-twin school children, including those studying in the same classes as the twins in the registry. It is hoped that the RSTR will provide an important research platform for national and international educationally relevant research.
The Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) is a large longitudinal sample of twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996. The focus of TEDS has been on cognitive and behavioral development, including difficulties in the context of normal development. TEDS began when multiple births were identified from birth records and the families were invited to take part in the study; 16,810 pairs of twins were originally enrolled in TEDS. More than 10,000 of these twin pairs remain enrolled in the study to date. DNA has been collected for more than 7,000 pairs, and genome-wide genotyping data for two million DNA markers are available for 3,500 individuals. The TEDS families have taken part in studies when the twins were aged 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, and 16 years of age. Data collection is currently underway to assess the adult destinations of the twins as they move from school to university and the workplace. Between January 2012 and December 2014, all of the TEDS twins will turn 18, and the study will transition to an adult sample. TEDS represents an outstanding resource for investigating the developmental effects of genes and environments on complex quantitative traits from childhood to young adulthood and beyond.
A previous publication reported the etiology of mathematics performance in 7-year-old twins (Oliver et al., 2004). As part of the same longitudinal study we investigated low mathematics performance and normal variation in a representative United Kingdom sample of 1713 same-sex 9-year-old twins based on teacher-assessed National Curriculum standards. Univariate individual differences and DeFries-Fulker extremes analyses were performed. Similar to our results at 7 years, all mathematics scores at 9 years showed high heritability (.62–.75) and low shared environmental estimates (.00–.11) for both the low performance group and the full sample. Longitudinal analyses were performed from 7 to 9 years. These longitudinal analyses indicated strong genetic continuity from 7 to 9 years for both low performance and mathematics in the normal range. We conclude that, despite the considerable differences in mathematics curricula from 7 to 9 years, the same genetic effects largely operate at the two ages.
By middle childhood, the same genetic factors are largely responsible for individual differences in verbal and nonverbal abilities, suggesting a genetic basis for general cognitive ability (“g”). Our previous work on verbal and nonverbal abilities throughout the normal range of variation during infancy and early childhood suggests that genetic influences show domain-specific as well as domain-general effects, implying that the switch to nearly complete domain-general effects occurs later in development. Much less is known about the genetic structure of low cognitive performance, although our previous work has shown that a composite measure of low “g” is highly heritable at 2, 3 and 4 years of age. We report the first multivariate, longitudinal analyses of low verbal and nonverbal cognitive abilities (defined as the lowest 10% of the distribution) at 2, 3 and 4 years of age using data from 9026 pairs of UK twins assessed by their parents as part of the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). Domain-general genetic influences increased significantly from 2 to 3 to 4 years. Although the phenotypic polychoric correlation between low verbal and low nonverbal ability was similar at 2, 3 and 4 years (.36, .43, .35), the genetic contribution to the phenotypic correlation increased dramatically (.37, .47, .76), with a corresponding decrease in the comorbid influence of shared environment (.61, .44, .35). We conclude that for low ability, as well as for normal variation in ability, genetic “g” emerges during early childhood but is not fully developed until middle childhood.
Using longitudinal cross-lagged analysis to infer causal directions of reciprocal effects is one of the most important tools in the developmental armamentarium. The strength of these analyses can be enhanced by analyzing the genetic and environmental aetiology underlying cross-lagged relationships, for which we present a novel approach here. Our approach is based on standard Cholesky decomposition. Standardized path coefficients are employed to assess genetic and environmental contributions to cross-lagged associations. We indicate how our model differs importantly from another approach that does not in fact analyze genetic and environmental contributions to cross-lagged associations. As an illustration, we apply our approach to the analysis of the cross-lagged relationships between self-perceived abilities and school achievement from age 9 to age 12. Self-perceived abilities of 3852 pairs of twins from the UK Twins Early Development Study were assessed using a self-report scale. School achievement was assessed by teachers based on UK National Curriculum criteria. The key cross-lagged association between self-perceived abilities at age 9 and school achievement at age 12 was mediated by genetic influences (28%) as well as shared (55%) and non-shared (16%) environment. The reverse cross-lagged association from school achievement at 9 to self-perceived abilities at 12 was primarily genetically mediated (73%). Unlike the approach to cross-lagged genetic analysis used in recent research, our approach assesses genetic and environmental contributions to cross-lagged associations per se. We discuss implications of finding that genetic factors contribute to the cross-lag between self-perceived abilities at age 9 and school achievement at age 12.
Twin studies of child temperament using objective measures consistently suggest moderate heritability for most dimensions. However, parent rating measures produce unusual patterns of results. Intraclass correlations for identical (MZ) twins are typically high, whereas fraternal (DZ) twin intraclass correlations are much lower than would be predicted from an additive genetic model. The ‘too low’ DZ correlations can be explained by parent-rating biases that either exaggerate the differences between DZ twins (contrast effects) or that inflate the similarity of MZ twins (assimilation effects), or by the presence of non-additive genetic variance. To evaluate the three possible explanations, we used model-fitting procedures applied to parent-rating data averaged across 14, 20, 24, and 36 months of age in a sample of 196 twin pairs participating in the MacArthur Longitudinal Twin Study. The data were best described by a model that included contrast effects. Implications for non-twin research are discussed. Twin Research (2000) 3, 224–233.
A parental report questionnaire posted to a population sample of 18-month-old twins correctly assigned zygosity in 95%of cases when validated against zygosity determined by identity of polymorphic DNA markers. The questionnaire was as accurate when readministered at 3 years of age, with 96% of children being assigned the same zygosity on both occasions. The results validate the use of parental report questionnaire data to determine zygosity in infancy. Twin Research (2000) 3, 129–133.