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

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


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 modelfitting 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 projectassigned 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
Title of host publicationThe Science of Mental Health
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 7: Personality and Personality Disorder
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781136767562
ISBN (Print)0815337434, 9780815337508
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Alcoholism
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Equalenvironment assumption
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Twin studies


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