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Genetic and environmental influences on obsessive-compulsive behaviour across development: a longitudinal twin study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1539-1549
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number7
Early online date12 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2015

King's Authors


Little is known about the factors influencing the stability of obsessive–compulsive behaviour (OCB) from childhood to adolescence. The current study aimed to investigate: (1) the stability of paediatric OCB over a 12-year period; (2) the extent to which genetic and environmental factors influence stability; and (3) the extent to which these influences are stable or dynamic across development.

The sample included 14 743 twins from a population-based study. Parental ratings of severity of OCB were collected at ages 4, 7, 9 and 16 years.

OCB was found to be moderately stable over time. The genetic influence on OCB at each age was moderate, with significant effects also of non-shared environment. Genetic factors exerted a substantial influence on OCB persistence, explaining 59–80% of the stability over time. The results indicated genetic continuity, whereby genetic influences at each age continue to affect the expression of OCB at subsequent ages. However, we also found evidence for genetic attenuation in that genetic influences at one age decline in their influence over time, and genetic innovation whereby new genes ‘come on line’ at each age. Non-shared environment influenced stability of OCB to a lesser extent and effects were largely unique to each age and displayed negligible influences on OCB at later time points.

OCB appears to be moderately stable across development, and stability is largely driven by genetic factors. However, the genetic effects are not entirely constant, but rather the genetic influence on OCB appears to be a developmentally dynamic process.

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