Examining the State-Trait Anxiety Relationship: A Behavioural Genetic Approach

  • Jennifer Y. F. Lau
  • Thalia C. Eley
  • Jim Stevenson

State and trait anxiety define different aspects of anxiety, and may represent environmentally and genetically mediated components of this phenotype. Furthermore their relationship, where trait anxiety is expressed through levels of state anxiety under threatening circumstances, may represent a process of interplay between a genetic vulnerability factor and an environmental stressor. To test these hypotheses, we explored genetic and environmental influences on measures of state and trait anxiety in a sample of 1058 twins (521 males and 537 females) aged 8–16. The results were consistent with these hypotheses. State anxiety is largely influenced by environmental factors in males and females whereas trait anxiety shows moderate genetic effects and substantial non-shared environment effects. Their association was accounted for by non-shared environmental effects, with modest genetic and shared environmental inputs. The implications of these results for vulnerability mechanisms involving stress reactivity on anxiety are discussed.


state anxiety trait anxiety genetics twins children 


  1. Brown, G. W., & Harris, T. O. (1989). Life events and illness. London: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  2. Carlson, E., & Sroufe, L. A. (1995). The contribution of attachment theory to developmental psychopathology. In D. Cicchetti & D. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental processes and psychopathology: Volume 1. Theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches (pp. 581–617). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H., McClay, J., Mill, J., Martin, J., Braithwaite, A., & Poulton, R. (2003). Influence of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science, 301, 386–389.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Caspi, A., Taylor, A., Moffitt, T. E., & Plomin, R. (2000). Neighbourhood deprivation affects children's mental health: Environmental risks identified in a genetic design. Psychological Science, 11, 338–342.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Cattell, R. B., & Scheier, I. H. (1963). Handbook for the IPAT Anxiety Scale (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing.Google Scholar
  6. Cohen, D. J., Dibble, E., Grawe, J. M., & Pollin, W. (1973). Separating identical from fraternal twins. Archives of General Psychiatry, 29, 465–469.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Edelbrock, C., Costello, A. J., Dulcan, M. K., Conover, N. C., & Kala, R. (1986). Parent-child agreement on child psychiatric symptoms assessed via structured interview. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 181–190.Google Scholar
  8. Eley, T. C., & Gregory, A. M. (2004). Behavioral Genetics. In T. L. Morris & J. S. March (Eds.), Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents (2nd ed., pp. 71–97). New York: Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  9. Eley, T. C., & Stevenson, J. (1999). Exploring the covariation between anxiety and depression symptoms: A genetic analysis of the effects of age and sex. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 1273–1284.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Eley, T. C., Sugden, K., Gregory, A. M., Sterne, A., Plomin, R., & Craig, I. W. (2004). Gene-environment interaction analysis of serotonin system markers with adolescent depression. Molecular Psychiatry, 9, 908–915.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Endler, N. S., & Kocovski, N. L. (2001). State and trait anxiety revisited. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 15, 231–245.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Finlay-Jones, R., & Brown, G. W. (1981). Types of stressful life events and the onset of anxiety and depressive disorders. Psychological Medicine, 11, 803–815.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Freud, S. (1924). Collected papers , Vol. 1. London: Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  14. Goodyer, I. M. (1990). Family relationships, life events and childhood psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31, 161–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Goodyer, I. M., Wright, C., & Altham, P. M. E. (1990). The friendships and recent life events of anxious and depressed school-age children. British Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 689–698.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Gray, J. A. (1988). The neuropsychological basis of anxiety. In C. G. Last & M. Hersen (Eds.), Handbook of anxiety disorders (pp. 10–37). New York: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hariri, A. R., Mattay, V. S., Tessitore, A., Kolachana, B., Fera, F., Goldman, D., Egan, M. F., & Weinberger, D. R. (2002). Serotonin transporter genetic variation and the response of the human amygdala. Science, 297, 400–403.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Jardine, R., Martin, N. G., & Henderson, A. S. (1984). Genetic covariation between neuroticism and the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Genetic Epidemiology, 1, 89–107.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Legrand, L. N., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (1999). A twin study of state and trait anxiety in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 953–958.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Lesch, K. P., Bengel, D., Heils, A., Zhang Sabol, S., Greenburg, B. D., Petri, S., Benjamin, J., Muller, C. R., Hamer, D. H., & Murphy, D. L. (1996). Association of anxiety-related traits with a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene regulatory region. Science, 274, 1527–1531.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Lewinsohn, P. M., Gotlib, I. H., Lewinsohn, M., Seeley, J. R., & Allen, N. B. (1998). Gender differences in anxiety disorders and anxiety symptoms in adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107, 109–117.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. McGue, M., & Bouchard, T. J., Jr. (1984). Adjustment of twin data for the effects of age and sex. Behavior Genetics, 14, 325–343.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Merrell, K. W., McClun, L. A., Kempf, K. K. G., & Lund, J. (2002). Using self-report assessment to identify children with internalizing problems: Validity of the internalizing symptoms scale for children. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 20, 223–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mesman, J., & Koot, H. M. (2001). Early preschool predictors of preadolescent internalizing and externalizing DSM-IV diagnoses. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 1029–1036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Miech, R. A., Caspi, A., Moffit, T. E., Wright, B. R. E., & Silva, P. A. (1999). Low Socioeconomic status and mental disorders: A longitudinal study of selection and causation during young adulthood. American Journal of Sociology, 104, 1096–1131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Muris, P., Rapee, R., Meesters, C., Schouten, E., & Geers, M. (2003). Threat perception abnormalities in children: The role of anxiety disorder symptoms, chronic anxiety, and state anxiety. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 17, 271–287.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Neale, M. C. (1997). Mx: Statistical Modeling. (4th ed.) Box 126 MCV, Richmond, VA 23298: Department of Psychiatry.Google Scholar
  28. Neale, M. C., & Cardon, L. R. (1992). Methodology for genetic studies of twins and families. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publications.Google Scholar
  29. Office for National Statistics (2002). Living in Britain: Results from the 2000/01 General Household Survey. London: Stationery Office.Google Scholar
  30. Purcell, S. (2002). Variance components models for gene-environment interaction in twin analysis. Twin Research, 5, 554–571.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Purdue, O., & Spielberger, C. D. (1966). Anxiety and the perception of punishment. Mental Hygiene, 50, 390.Google Scholar
  32. Reynolds, C. R. (1980). Concurrent validity of I think and feel: The revised children's and manifest scale. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48, 774–775.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Scourfield, J., Rice, F., Thapar, A., Harold, G. T., Martin, N., & McGuffin, P. (2003). Depressive symptoms in children and adolescents: Changing aetiological influences with development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 968–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Silberg, J., Rutter, M., Neale, M., & Eaves, L. (2001). Genetic moderation of environmental risk for depression and anxiety in adolescent girls. British Journal of Psychiatry, 179, 116–121.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Smoller, J. W., & Tsuang, M. T. (1998). Panic and phobic anxiety: Defining phenotypes for genetic studies. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 1152–1162.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Spielberger, C. (1973). Preliminary test manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  37. Spielberger, C. D. (1966). Anxiety and Behaviour. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  38. Thapar, A., & McGuffin, P. (1994). A twin study of depressive symptoms in childhood. British Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 259–265.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Topolski, T. D., Hewitt, J. K., Eaves, L., Meyer, J. M., Silberg, J. L., Simonoff, E., & Rutter, M. (1999). Genetic and environmental influences on ratings of manifest anxiety by parents and children. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 13, 371–397.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Warren, S. L., Schmitz, S., & Emde, R. N. (1999). Behavioral genetic analyses of self-reported anxiety at 7 years of age. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 1403–1408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Y. F. Lau
    • 1
    • 3
  • Thalia C. Eley
    • 1
  • Jim Stevenson
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of PsychiatryKing's College LondonLondonU.K
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonU.K
  3. 3.Box P080, Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research CentreInstitute of Psychiatry, De'Crespigny ParkLondonU.K

Personalised recommendations