Genetics of environmental sensitivity and its association with variations in emotional problems, autistic traits, and wellbeing

Elham Assary, Olakunle Ayokunmi Oginni, Geneviève Morneau-Vaillancourt, Georgina Krebs, Elisavet Palaiologou, Celestine Lockhart, Angelica Ronald, Thalia Eley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Greater environmental sensitivity has been associated with increased risk of mental health problems, especially in response to stressors, and lower levels of subjective wellbeing. Conversely, sensitivity also correlates with lower risk of emotional problems in the absence of adversity, and in response to positive environmental influences. Additionally, sensitivity has been found to correlate positively with autistic traits. Individual differences in environmental sensitivity are partly heritable, but it is unknown to what extent the aetiological factors underlying sensitivity overlap with those on emotional problems (anxiety and depressive symptoms), autistic traits and wellbeing. The current study used multivariate twin models and data on sensitivity, emotional problems, autistic traits, and several indices of psychological and subjective wellbeing, from over 2,800 adolescent twins in England and Wales. We found that greater overall sensitivity correlated with greater emotional problems, autistic traits, and lower subjective wellbeing. A similar pattern of correlations was found for the Excitation and Sensory factors of sensitivity, but, in contrast, the Aesthetic factor was positively correlated with psychological wellbeing, though not with emotional problems nor autistic traits. The observed correlations were largely due to overlapping genetic influences. Importantly, genetic influences underlying sensitivity explained between 2 and 12% of the variations in emotional problems, autistic traits, and subjective wellbeing, independent of trait-specific or overlapping genetic influences. These findings encourage incorporating the genetics of environmental sensitivity in future genomic studies aiming to delineate the heterogeneity in emotional problems, autistic traits, and wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2024

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