Heritability of Behavioral Problems in 7-Year Olds Based on Shared and Unique Aspects of Parental Views

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In studies of child psychopathology, phenotypes of interest are often obtained by parental ratings. When behavioral ratings are obtained in the context of a twin study, this allows for the decomposition of the phenotypic variance, into a genetic and a non-genetic part. If a phenotype is assessed by a single rater, heritability is based on the child’s behavior as expressed in the presence of that particular rater, whereas heritability based on assessments by multiple raters allows for the estimation of the heritability of the phenotype based on rater agreement, as well as the heritability of the rater specific view of the behavior. The aim of this twin study was to quantify the rater common and rater specific contributions to the variation in children’s behavioral problems. We estimated the heritability of maternal and paternal ratings of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) 6–18 empirical emotional and behavioral problem scales in a large sample of 12,310 7-year old Dutch twin pairs. Between 30 and 59% of variation in the part of the phenotype parents agree upon was explained by genetic effects. Common environmental effects that make children in the same family similar explained less variance, ranging between 0 and 32%. For unique views of their children’s behavioral problems, heritability ranged between 0 and 20% for maternal and between 0 and 22% for paternal views. Between 7 and 24% of the variance was accounted for by common environmental factors specific to mother and father’s views. The proportion of rater shared and rater specific heritability can be translated into genetic correlations between parental views and inform the design and interpretation of results of molecular genetic studies. Genetic correlations were nearly or above 0.7 for all CBCL based psychopathology scales. Such large genetic correlations suggest two practical guidelines for genome-wide association studies (GWAS): when studies have collected data from either fathers or mothers, the shared genetic aetiology in parental ratings indicates that is possible to analyze paternal and maternal assessments in a single GWAS or meta-analysis. Secondly, if a study has collected information from both parents, a gain in statistical power may be realized in GWAS by the simultaneous analysis of the data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-163
Number of pages12
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017

Cohort Studies

  • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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