JOURNAL ARTICLE

A twin study of body dysmorphic concerns

B Monzani, F Rijsdijk, M Anson, A C Iervolino, L Cherkas, T Spector, D Mataix-Cols
Psychological Medicine 2012, 42 (9): 1949-55
22126745

BACKGROUND: Dysmorphic concern refers to an excessive preoccupation with a perceived or slight defect in physical appearance. It lies on a continuum of severity from no or minimal concerns to severe concerns over one's appearance. The present study examined the heritability of dysmorphic concerns in a large sample of twins.

METHOD: Twins from the St Thomas UK twin registry completed a valid and reliable self-report measure of dysmorphic concerns, which also includes questions about perceived body odour and malfunction. Twin modelling methods (female twins only, n=3544) were employed to decompose the variance in the liability to dysmorphic concerns into additive genetic, shared and non-shared environmental factors.

RESULTS: Model-fitting analyses showed that genetic factors accounted for approximately 44% [95% confidence intervals (CI) 36-50%] of the variance in dysmorphic concerns, with non-shared environmental factors and measurement error accounting for the remaining variance (56%; 95% CI 50-63%). Shared environmental factors were negligible. The results remained unchanged when excluding individuals reporting an objective medical condition/injury accounting for their concern in physical appearance.

CONCLUSIONS: Over-concern with a perceived or slight defect in physical appearance is a heritable trait, with non-shared environmental factors also playing an important role in its causation. The results are relevant for various psychiatric disorders characterized by excessive concerns in body appearance, odour or function, including but not limited to body dysmorphic disorder.

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