Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 55–65 | Cite as

In the Face of Uncertainty: A Twin Study of Ambiguous Information, Anxiety and Depression in Children

  • Thalia C. Eley
  • Alice M. Gregory
  • Jennifer Y. F. Lau
  • Peter McGuffin
  • Maria Napolitano
  • Fruhling V. Rijsdijk
  • David M. Clark


Anxiety and depression share genetic influences, and have been associated with similar cognitive biases. Psychological theories of anxiety and depression highlight threat interpretations of ambiguity. Little is known about whether genes influence cognitive style, or its links to symptoms. We assessed ambiguous word and scenario interpretations, anxiety and depression symptoms in 300 8-year-old twin pairs. There were significant correlations between both negative interpretations of ambiguous words and scenarios and depression symptoms after controlling for anxiety symptoms (r = .13 and .31, respectively), but no significant correlations with anxiety independent of depression. Genetic effects ranged from 16% for depression to 30% for ambiguous word interpretations. Non-shared environmental influences were large (68–70%). Both genetic and environmental influences contributed to the association between depression and ambiguous scenario interpretations. These findings support psychological theories, which emphasise the role of environmental stress both on the development of threat interpretations and on their links with symptoms. The data also support a role for genetic influence on threat interpretations, which may mediate responses to stress.


Threat interpretation Ambiguity Anxiety Depression Twins 



The ECHO study is funded by a Medical Research Council Career Development Award to the first author. The preparation of this manuscript was also supported by an ESRC fellowship to the second author. We thank the families who participated in this study, and Georgina Hosang, Fiona Mcleod, Robert Plomin and Jasmine Singh for their input.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thalia C. Eley
    • 1
  • Alice M. Gregory
    • 1
    • 3
  • Jennifer Y. F. Lau
    • 1
    • 4
  • Peter McGuffin
    • 1
  • Maria Napolitano
    • 1
  • Fruhling V. Rijsdijk
    • 1
  • David M. Clark
    • 2
  1. 1.Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry CentreInstitute of Psychiatry, Kings College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Psychology DepartmentInstitute of Psychiatry, Kings College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.Mood and Anxiety ProgramNational Institute of Mental HealthBethesdaUSA

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