Growing Old but Not Growing Apart: Twin Similarity in the Latter Half of the Lifespan
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While a substantial amount of behavioral genetic research has helped to characterize developmental trends in twin similarity in early life, relatively little is known about changes in twin similarity with age in adulthood. We investigated age moderation of twin similarity for a composite measure of cognitive ability, depression symptomatology and hand grip strength in a cross-sectional sample of 2,332 like-sex pairs of Danish twins age 46–96 years. All three outcomes were strongly correlated with age, indicating that the three phenotypes analyzed are not developmentally static. Nonetheless, in moderated regression analysis we found no evidence of declining twin similarity for any of the three outcomes in either zygosity group. Moreover, biometric analysis of the twin data revealed minimal differences in heritability estimates across the age range sampled. While small sample size limits our ability to draw firm conclusions at very advanced ages, these findings call into question the hypothesis that the cumulative impact of life experiences diminishes twin similarity at least through age 80. We hypothesize that twins are able to maintain similarity over extended periods of time because in part they are able to construct similar environments that reinforce that similarity.
KeywordsAging Depression Cognitive functioning Grip strength Age differences in heritability Twin correlation
This work was supported by grants from the U.S. National Institute on Aging (P01-AG08761) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01 AA009367). The Danish Aging Research Center is supported by a grant from the VELUX Foundation. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions on earlier versions of this paper.
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