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The Intergenerational Transmission of Anxiety: A Children-of-Twins Study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Thalia Eley, Thomas McAdams, Fruhling Rijsdijk, Paul Lichtenstein, Jurgita Narusyte, David Reiss, Erica Spotts, Jody Ganiban, Jenae M. Neiderhiser

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)630-637
JournalThe American Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number7
Early online date23 Apr 2015
Accepted/In press13 Jan 2015
E-pub ahead of print23 Apr 2015
Published1 Jul 2015


King's Authors


Objective. The transmission of anxiety within families is well-recognised, but the underlying processes are poorly understood. Twin studies of adolescent anxiety demonstrate both genetic and environmental influence, and multiple aspects of parenting are associated with offspring anxiety. To date, the Children-of-Twins design has not been used to evaluate the relative contributions of genetic versus direct transmission of anxiety from parents to their offspring.

Method. Anxiety and neuroticism measures were completed by 385 monozygotic and 486 dizygotic same-sex twin families (37% male twin pair families) from the Twin and Offspring Study in Sweden (TOSS). Structural equation models tested for the presence of both genetic and environmental transmission from one generation to the next.

Results. For both anxiety and neuroticism the models provide support for significant direct environmental transmission from parents to their adolescent offspring. In contrast there was no evidence of significant genetic transmission.

Conclusions. The association between parental and offspring anxiety largely arises due to a direct association between parents and their children independent of genetic confounds. The lack of genetic transmission may reflect there being different genetic effects on these traits in adolescence and adulthood. Direct environmental transmission is in line with developmental theories of anxiety suggesting that children and adolescents learn anxious behaviours from their parents via a number of pathways such as modelling. Future analyses should combine children-of-twins data with child twin data in order to examine whether this direct effect solely represents parental influences on the offspring or whether it also includes child/adolescent anxiety evoking parental anxiety.

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