Genetic Correlates of Psychological Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis in Young Adult Twins in Great Britain

Kaili Rimfeld*, Margherita Malanchini, Andrea G. Allegrini, Amy E. Packer, Andrew McMillan, Rachel Ogden, Louise Webster, Nicholas G. Shakeshaft, Kerry L. Schofield, Jean Baptiste Pingault, Argyris Stringaris, Sophie von Stumm, Robert Plomin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
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We investigated how the COVID-19 crisis and the extraordinary experience of lockdown affected young adults in England and Wales psychologically. One month after lockdown commenced (T2), we assessed 30 psychological and behavioural traits in more than 4000 twins in their mid-twenties and compared their responses to the same traits assessed in 2018 (T1). Mean changes from T1 to T2 were modest and inconsistent. Contrary to the hypothesis that major environmental changes related to COVID-19 would result in increased variance in psychological and behavioural traits, we found that the magnitude of individual differences did not change from T1 to T2. Twin analyses revealed that while genetic factors accounted for about half of the reliable variance at T1 and T2, they only accounted for ~ 15% of individual differences in change from T1 to T2, and that nonshared environmental factors played a major role in psychological and behavioural changes. Shared environmental influences had negligible impact on T1, T2 or T2 change. Genetic factors correlated on average.86 between T1 and T2 and accounted for over half of the phenotypic stability, as would be expected for a 2-year interval even without the major disruption of lockdown. We conclude that the first month of lockdown has not resulted in major psychological or attitudinal shifts in young adults, nor in major changes in the genetic and environmental origins of these traits. Genetic influences on the modest psychological and behavioural changes are likely to be the result of gene–environment correlation not interaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-124
Number of pages15
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Depression
  • Life satisfaction
  • Psychological stress
  • Psychopathology
  • Response to global pandemic


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