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Life Events as Environmental States and Genetic Traits and the Role of Personality: A Longitudinal Twin Study

Abstract

The occurrence of many life events is not entirely random but genetically influenced. The current study examined the sources underlying the stability or recurrence of life events and the developmental interplay between personality traits and life events. In a longitudinal study of 338 adult twin pairs we estimated (1) the genetic and environmental sources of continuity in aggregates of life events, (2) the sources through which personality influences the experience of life events, and (3) the sources through which life events influence personality. Unlike personality which showed both genetic and environmental influences on substantial continuity over time, stability of life events was moderate and mainly influenced by genetic factors. Significant associations between personality and life events were specific to certain personality traits and qualitative aspects of life events (controllable positive, controllable negative, and less controllable negative), primarily directional from personality to life events, and basically genetically mediated. Controlled for these genetic associations, we also found some small and basically environmentally mediated effects of life events on personality traits. The results support the concept of genotype–environment correlation as a propulsive mechanism of development.

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Notes

  1. We ran additional multivariate regression analyses with all three life event aggregates at the first measurement occasion as predictors for each score at the second measurement occasion. We found that only the continuity within qualitative aspects were significant when controlling for prior links between qualitative aspects of life events (β = .39 for positive events; β = .48 for controllable negative events; β = .27 for less controllable events). There was one exception: Controllable negative events at the first measurement occasion additionally accounted for a significant amount of variance in less controllable life events at the second measurement occasion (β = .17).

  2. Prior to longitudinal analyses, we estimated within-time MZ and DZ twin correlations. For positive life events, MZ twin correlations were .24 at time 2 and .31 at time 3, whereas DZ correlations were .09 and .19, respectively; for controllable negative life events, MZ and DZ twin correlations were .34 and .12 at time 2 and .35 and .12 at time 3; and for less controllable negative life events, we found MZ and DZ twin correlations of .31 and .15 at time 2 and .42 and .30 at time 3. For all scores and both measurement occasions, an univariate twin model allowing for additive genetic (a 2) and nonshared environmental effects (e 2) provided the best model fit compared to more complex models additionally allowing for shared environmental effects or nonadditive genetic effects and compared to more restrictive models only allowing for nonshared environmental effects. Confidence intervals indicated no significant differences in the amount of genetic variance among LE-scores and across time. Re-running the analyses without opposite-sex DZ pairs led to almost identical results but slightly reduced statistical power.

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Correspondence to Christian Kandler.

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Edited by Deborah Finkel.

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Kandler, C., Bleidorn, W., Riemann, R. et al. Life Events as Environmental States and Genetic Traits and the Role of Personality: A Longitudinal Twin Study. Behav Genet 42, 57–72 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10519-011-9491-0

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Keywords

  • Twin study
  • Life events
  • Personality traits
  • Continuity
  • Genotype–environment correlation