JOURNAL ARTICLE

Creating a social world: a developmental twin study of peer-group deviance

Kenneth S Kendler, Kristen C Jacobson, Charles O Gardner, Nathan Gillespie, Steven A Aggen, Carol A Prescott
Archives of General Psychiatry 2007, 64 (8): 958-65
17679640

CONTEXT: Peer-group deviance is strongly associated with externalizing behaviors. We have limited knowledge of the sources of individual differences in peer-group deviance.

OBJECTIVE: To clarify genetic and environmental contributions to peer-group deviance in twins from midchildhood through early adulthood.

DESIGN: Retrospective assessments using a life-history calendar. Analysis by biometric growth curves.

SETTING: General community.

PARTICIPANTS: Members of male-male pairs from the population-based Virginia Twin Registry personally interviewed in 1998-2004 (n = 1802).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Self-reported peer-group deviance at ages 8 to 11, 12 to 14, 15 to 17, 18 to 21, and 22 to 25 years.

RESULTS: Mean and variance of peer-group deviance increased substantially with age. Genetic effects on peer-group deviance showed a strong and steady increase over time. Family environment generally declined in importance over time. Individual-specific environmental influences on peer-group deviance levels were stable in the first 3 age periods and then increased as most twins left home. When standardized, the heritability of peer-group deviance is approximately 30% at ages 8 to 11 years and rises to approximately 50% across the last 3 time periods. Both genes and shared environment contributed to individual differences in the developmental trajectory of peer-group deviance. However, while the correlation between childhood peer-group deviance levels and the subsequent slope of peer-group deviance over time resulting from genetic factors was positive, the same relationship resulting from shared environmental factors was negative.

CONCLUSIONS: As male twins mature and create their own social worlds, genetic factors play an increasingly important role in their choice of peers, while shared environment becomes less influential. The individual-specific environment increases in importance when individuals leave home. Individuals who have deviant peers in childhood, as a result of genetic vs shared environmental influences, have distinct developmental trajectories. Understanding the risk factors for peer-group deviance will help clarify the etiology of a range of externalizing psychopathology.

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