Genetic and Environmental Effects on Attention Problems in 44,607 3 to 90-year-old Dutch Twins

Many studies have reported both genetic and environmental effects on attention problems. However, such studies have not tested the longitudinal stability of genetic and environmental effects over multiple developmental periods. The Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) is a unique resource that has been obtaining assessment data for thousands of Dutch twins since 1987. The NTR’s use of ASEBA instruments to assess twins at many ages enables researchers to test genetic and environmental effects during different developmental periods, as well as testing the longitudinal course of such effects from one developmental period to another. Kan et al. (2013) used CBCL ratings by parents of 3- to 12-year-olds, YSR self-ratings by 12- to 18-year-olds, and ASR self-ratings by18-90-year-olds to conduct such tests. The researchers found that the heritability and longitudinal stability of ASEBA Attention Problems scores were highest in childhood and lowest in older adulthood. Although both genetic and environmental effects contributed to stability from one developmental period to another, changes were primarily due to environmental factors, especially “innovations,” which are effects that influence attention problems at particular points in development but that are not predictable from previous measurements. As Kan et al. concluded, their findings “that environmental innovations were ubiquitous suggests an accumulation of different lasting environmental effects on AP (Attention Problems). Therefore, although short-term prediction of AP is possible, the long-term prediction is difficult” (p. 21).

Reference: Kan, K-J., Dolan, C.V., Nivard, M.G., Middeldorp, C., van Beijsterveldt, C.E.M., Willemsen, G., & Boomsma, D. I. (2013). Genetic and environmental stability in attention problems across the lifespan: Evidence from the Netherlands Twin Register. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 52, 12-25.