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Twins and Causal Inference: Leveraging Nature's Experiment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)a039552
JournalCold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2020

King's Authors


In this review, we discuss how samples comprising monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs can be used for the purpose of strengthening causal inference by controlling for shared influences on exposure and outcome. We begin by briefly introducing how twin data can be used to inform the biometric decomposition of population variance into genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared environmental influences. We then discuss how extensions to this model can be used to explore whether associations between exposure and outcome survive correction for shared etiology (common causes). We review several analytical approaches that can be applied to twin data for this purpose. These include multivariate structural equation models, cotwin control methods, direction of causation models (cross-sectional and longitudinal), and extended family designs used to assess intergenerational associations. We conclude by highlighting some of the limitations and considerations that researchers should be aware of when using twin data for the purposes of interrogating causal hypotheses.

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