Accounting for genetic and environmental confounds in associations between parent and child characteristics: A systematic review of children-of-twins studies

Tom A. McAdams, Jenae M. Neiderhiser, Fruhling V. Rijsdijk, Jurgita Narusyte, Paul Lichtenstein, Thalia C. Eley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

68 Scopus citations

Abstract

Parental psychopathology, parenting style, and the quality of intrafamilial relationships are all associated with child mental health outcomes. However, most research can say little about the causal pathways underlying these associations. This is because most studies are not genetically informative and are therefore not able to account for the possibility that associations are confounded by gene-environment correlation. That is, biological parents not only provide a rearing environment for their child, but also contribute 50% of their genes. Any associations between parental phenotype and child phenotype are therefore potentially confounded. One technique for disentangling genetic from environmental effects is the children-of-twins (COT) method. This involves using data sets comprising twin parents and their children to distinguish genetic from environmental associations between parent and child phenotypes. The COT technique has grown in popularity in the last decade, and we predict that this surge in popularity will continue. In the present article we explain the COT method for those unfamiliar with its use. We present the logic underlying this approach, discuss strengths and weaknesses, and highlight important methodological considerations for researchers interested in the COT method. We also cover variations on basic COT approaches, including the extended-COT method, capable of distinguishing forms of gene-environment correlation. We then present a systematic review of all the behavioral COT studies published to date. These studies cover such diverse phenotypes as psychosis, substance abuse, internalizing, externalizing, parenting, and marital difficulties. In reviewing this literature, we highlight past applications, identify emergent patterns, and suggest avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1138-1173
Number of pages36
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Volume140
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)

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