Are there Shared Environmental Influences on Adolescent behavior? Evidence from a Study of Adoptive Siblings
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The failure to identify specific non-shared environmental influences on behavior coupled with the belief that shared environmental factors contribute minimally to individual differences in behavior has led to the concern that major environmental determinants of behavior may be idiosyncratic, and therefore undetectable. We used data on adoptive (N = 246) and biologically related (N = 130) same-sex sibling pairs (mean ages = 16.1 years older sibling; 13.8 years younger sibling) from the Sibling Interaction and Behavior Study (SIBS) to determine whether non-idiosyncratic environmental factors shared by siblings contributed to individual differences in a diverse set of behavioral outcomes. Evidence for shared environmental influence was sought for eight composite measures covering a wide array of adolescent functioning: Academic Achievement, Total IQ, Substance Use Disorders, Externalizing Disorders, Internalizing Disorders, Peer Groups, Disinhibited Personality, and Negative Emotionality. For six of eight composites, significant shared environmental effects, accounting for 14–22% of the variance, were observed for these same-sex sibling pairs. These findings support the use of adoptive sibling designs to directly estimate shared environmental effects and implicate the existence of systematic environmental influences on behavior that are potentially detectable.