November 1995

Differential Heritability of Adult and Juvenile Antisocial Traits

Author Affiliations

The affiliations of the authors appear in the "Acknowledgment" section at the end of the article.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1995;52(11):906-915. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1995.03950230020005

Background:  Studies of adult antisocial behavior or criminality usually find genetic factors to be more important than the family environment, whereas studies of delinquency find the family environment to be more important. We compared DSM-III-R antisocial personality disorder symptoms before vs after the age of 15 years within a sample of twins, rather than comparing across studies.

Methods:  We administered the Diagnostic Interview Schedule Version III—revised by telephone to 3226 pairs of male twins from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry. Biometrical modeling was applied to each symptom of antisocial personality disorder and summary measures of juvenile and adult symptoms.

Results:  Five juvenile symptoms were significantly heritable, and five were significantly influenced by the shared environment. Eight adult symptoms were significantly heritable, and one was significantly influenced by the shared environment. The shared environment explained about six times more variance in juvenile antisocial traits than in adult traits. Shared environmental influences on adult antisocial traits overlapped entirely with those on juvenile traits. Additive genetic factors explained about six times more variance in adult vs juvenile traits. The juvenile genetic determinants overlapped completely with genetic influences on adult traits. The unique environment (plus measurement error) explained the largest proportion of variance in both juvenile and adult antisocial traits.

Conclusions:  Characteristics of the shared or family environment that promote antisocial behavior during childhood and early adolescence also promote later antisocial behavior, but to a much lesser extent. Genetic causal factors are much more prominent for adult than for juvenile antisocial traits.