Behavior Genetics

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 245–255 | Cite as

A Multivariate Twin Study of Autistic Traits in 12-Year-Olds: Testing the Fractionable Autism Triad Hypothesis

  • Elise B. RobinsonEmail author
  • Karestan C. Koenen
  • Marie C. McCormick
  • Kerim Munir
  • Victoria Hallett
  • Francesca Happé
  • Robert Plomin
  • Angelica Ronald
Original Research


Autistic traits—social impairment, communication impairment, and restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests—are heritable in the general population. Previous analyses have consistently reported limited genetic and environmental overlap between autistic trait domains in samples assessed in middle childhood. Here we extend this research to parent-report data for 12-year-olds. Data from 5,944 pairs in the Twins Early Development Study were analyzed to explore the domain-specific heritability and degree of shared genetic and environmental influences across different autistic traits in the general population and among individuals scoring in the top 5% of each domain. Sex differences in the etiological estimates were also tested in these analyses. Autistic traits were moderately to highly heritable (0.58–0.88) at age 12. Bivariate genetic correlations in the full sample (0.18–0.40) and the extremes (0.24–0.67), as well as even lower unique environmental correlations, all suggested considerable fractionation of genetic and environmental influences across autistic trait domains, in line with previous findings.


Autistic traits Autism Twins Genetics Genetic overlap 



The TEDS is funded by MRC grant G0500079 and has IRB approval. The research was specifically funded by a National Institute of Mental Health/NIH Research Fellowship in Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (MH/DD) at The Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School (MH71286) and the Training Program in Psychiatric Genetics and Translational Research at the Harvard School of Public Health (T32MH017119).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elise B. Robinson
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Karestan C. Koenen
    • 1
    • 4
    • 5
  • Marie C. McCormick
    • 4
  • Kerim Munir
    • 2
    • 6
  • Victoria Hallett
    • 7
    • 8
  • Francesca Happé
    • 7
  • Robert Plomin
    • 7
  • Angelica Ronald
    • 7
    • 9
  1. 1.Department of EpidemiologyHarvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  2. 2.Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (MH/DD) Program, Division of Developmental MedicineThe Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  3. 3.Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit, Center for Human Genetics ResearchMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Society, Human Development, and HealthHarvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  5. 5.Harvard Center on the Developing ChildHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  6. 6.Department of PsychiatryThe Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  7. 7.King’s College London, MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry CentreInstitute of PsychiatryLondonUK
  8. 8.Yale Child Study CenterYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  9. 9.Center for Brain and Cognitive Development, Department of Psychological Sciences, BirkbeckUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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