A test of the equal-environment assumption in twin studies of psychiatric illness

Kenneth S. Kendler, Michael C. Neale, Ronald C. Kessler, Andrew C. Heath, Lindon J. Eaves

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289 Scopus citations

Abstract

The traditional twin method is predicated on the equal-environment assumption (EEA)-that monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins are equally correlated in their exposure to environmental events of etiologic importance for the trait under study. In 1968, Scarr proposed a test of the EEA which examines the impact of phenotypic similarity in twins of perceived versus true zygosity. We apply this test for the EEA to five common psychiatric disorders (major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, bulimia, and alcoholism), as assessed by personal interview, in 1030 female-female twin pairs from the Virginia Twin Registry with known zygosity. We use a newly developed model-fitting approach which treats perceived zygosity as a form of specified familial environment. In 158 of the 1030 pairs (15.3%), one or both twins disagreed with the project-assigned zygosity. Model fitting provided no evidence for a significant influence of perceived zygosity on twin resemblance for any of the five disorders. Although limited in power, these results support the validity of the EEA in twin studies of psychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-27
Number of pages7
JournalBehavior genetics
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1993

Keywords

  • Twin studies
  • alcoholism
  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • equal-environment assumption
  • psychiatric disorders

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