Behavior Genetics

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 378–392 | Cite as

Heritability and Longitudinal Stability of Impulsivity in Adolescence

  • Sharon NivEmail author
  • Catherine Tuvblad
  • Adrian Raine
  • Pan Wang
  • Laura A. Baker
Original Research


Impulsivity is a multifaceted personality construct that plays an important role throughout the lifespan in psychopathological disorders involving self-regulated behaviors. Its genetic and environmental etiology, however, is not clearly understood during the important developmental period of adolescence. This study investigated the relative influence of genes and environment on self-reported impulsive traits in adolescent twins measured on two separate occasions (waves) between the ages of 11 and 16. An adolescent version of the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS) developed for this study was factored into subscales reflecting inattention, motor impulsivity, and non-planning. Genetic analyses of these BIS subscales showed moderate heritability, ranging from 33–56% at the early wave (age 11–13 years) and 19–44% at the later wave (age 14–16 years). Moreover, genetic influences explained half or more of the variance of a single latent factor common to these subscales within each wave. Genetic effects specific to each subscale also emerged as significant, with the exception of motor impulsivity. Shared twin environment was not significant for either the latent or specific impulsivity factors at either wave. Phenotypic correlations between waves ranged from r = 0.25 to 0.42 for subscales. The stability correlation between the two latent impulsivity factors was r = 0.43, of which 76% was attributable to shared genetic effects, suggesting strong genetic continuity from mid to late adolescence. These results contribute to our understanding of the nature of impulsivity by demonstrating both multidimensionality and genetic specificity to different facets of this complex construct, as well as highlighting the importance of stable genetic influences across adolescence.


Impulsivity Adolescence Longitudinal Heritability 



This study was funded by a grant from NIMH (R01 MH58354) awarded to Laura Baker. Adrian Raine was supported by NIMH (Independent Scientist Award K02 MH01114-08). We thank the Southern California Twin Project staff for data collection, and the participating families for their cooperation.


  1. Akaike AC (1987) Factor analysis and AIC. Psychometrika 52:317–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edn. Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker LA, Barton M, Lozano DI, Raine A, Fowler JH (2006) The Southern California twin register at the University of Southern California: II. Twin Res Hum Genet 9:933–940PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baker LA, Jacobson KC, Raine A, Lozano DI, Bezdjian S (2007) Genetic and environmental bases of childhood antisocial behavior: a multi-informant twin study. J Abnorm Psychol 116:219–235PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barratt ES (1959) Anxiety and impulsiveness related to psychomotor efficiency. Percept Mot Skills 9:191–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bezdjian S, Baker LA, Tuvblad C (2011a) Genetic and environmental influences on impulsivity: a meta-analysis of twin, family and adoption studies. Clin Psychol Rev 31((7):1209–1223PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bezdjian S, Tuvblad C, Wyner JD, Raine A, & Baker LA (2011b) Motor impulsivity during childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal biometric analysis of the Go/NoGo task in twins aged 9-16 years old (under review)Google Scholar
  8. Buss AH, Plomin R (1975) A temperament theory of personality development. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Casey BJ, Davidson M, Rosen B (2002) Functional magnetic resonance imaging: basic principles of and applications to developmental science. Dev Sci 5:301–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Casey BJ, Getz S, Galvan A (2008) The adolescent brain. Dev Rev 28:62–77PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Caspi A, Silva PA (1995) Temperamental qualities at age three predict personality traits in young adulthood: Longitudinal evidence from a birth cohort. Child Dev 66:486–498PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coccaro EF (1989) Central serotonin and impulsive aggression. Br J Psychiatry 155:52–62Google Scholar
  13. Coccaro EF, Bergeman CS, McClearn GE (1993) Heritability of irritable impulsiveness: a study of twins reared together and apart. Psychiatry Res 4:229–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. d’Acremont M, Van der Linder M (2005) Adolescent impulsivity: findings from a community sample. J Youth Adolesc 34:427–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. De Fruyt F, Mervielde I, Hoekstra HA, Rolland J (2000) Assessing adolescents’ personality with the NEO PI-R. Assessment 7:329–345PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eaves LJ, Martin NG, Eysenck SB (1977) An application of the analysis of covariance structures to the psychogenetical study of impulsiveness. Br J Math Stat Psychol 30:185–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Eysenck SB, Eysenck HJ (1977) The place of impulsiveness in a dimensional system of personality description. Br J Soc Clin Psychol 16:57–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fossati A, Di Ceglie A, Acquarini E, Barratt ES (2002) Psychometric properties of an adolescent version of the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11 for a sample of Italian high school students. Percept Mot Skills 9:621–635Google Scholar
  19. Fossati A, Feeney JA, Carretta I et al (2005) Modeling the relationships between adult attachment patterns and borderline personality disorder: the role of impulsivity and aggressiveness. J Soc Clin Psychol 24:520–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Galvan A, Hare T, Voss H, Glover G, Casey BJ (2007) Risk-taking and the adolescent brain: who is at risk? Dev Sci 10:F8–F14PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hu L, Bentler PM (1998) Fit indices in covariance structure modeling: sensitivity to underparameterized model misspecification. Psychol Methods 3:424–453Google Scholar
  22. Hur Y (2007) Evidence for non-additive genetic effects on Eysenck personality scales in South Korean twins. Twin Res Hum Genet 10:373–378PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Irwin CE Jr (1989) Risk taking behaviors in the adolescent patient: are they impulsive? Pediatric Annals 18:122–133PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Jang KL (2005) The behavioral genetics of psychopathology. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, MawahGoogle Scholar
  25. Jensen PS, Youngstrom EA, Steiner H et al (2007) Consensus report on impulsive aggression as a symptom across diagnostic categories in child psychiatry: implications for medication studies. J Am Acad Child Adoles Psychiatry 4:309–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kenemans JL, Bekker EM, Lijffijt M, Overtoom CCE, Jonkman LM, Verbaten MN (2005) Attention deficit and impulsivity: selecting, shifting and stopping. Int J Psychophysiol 58:59–70PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Klinteberg BA, Magnusson D, Schalling D (1989) Hyperactive behavior in childhood and adult impulsivity: a longitudinal study of male subjects. J Pers Individ Differ 1:43–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Krueger RF, Moffitt TE, Caspi A, Bleske A, Silva PA (1998) Assortative mating for antisocial behavior: developmental and methodological implications. Behav Genet 28:173–186PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Larsson H, Andershed H, Lichtenstein P (2006) A genetic factor explains most of the variation in the psychopathic personality. J Abnorm Psychol 155:221–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lykken DT (1978) The diagnosis of zygosity in twins. Behav Genet 8:437–473PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McCrae RR, Costa PJ, Terracciano A, Parker WD, Mills CJ, De Fruyt F et al (2002) Personality trait development from age 12 to age 18: longitudinal, cross-sectional, and cross-cultural analyses. J Pers Soc Psychol 83:1456–1468PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moeller FG, Barratt ES, Dougherty DM, Schmitz JM, Swann AC (2001) Psychiatric aspects of impulsivity. Am J Psychiatry 158:1783–1793PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Muthen LK, Muthen B (2006) Mplus: the comprehensive modeling program for applied researchers. Muthen & Muthen, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  34. Neale MC, Cardon LR (1992) Methodology for genetic studies of twins and families. Kluwer Academic Publications, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  35. Neale MC, Boker SM, Xie G, Maes H (2003) Mx: statistical modeling. Department of Psychiatry, Medical College of Virginia, RichmondGoogle Scholar
  36. Olson SL, Schilling EM, Bates JE (1999) Measurements of impulsivity: construct coherence, longitudinal stability, and relationship with externalizing problems in middle childhood and adolescence. J Abnorm Child Psychol 27:151–165PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Patton JH, Stanford MS, and Barratt ES, (1995) Factor structure of the barratt impulsiveness scaleGoogle Scholar
  38. Pedersen NL, Plomin R, McClearn GE, Friberg L (1988) Neuroticism, extroversion and related traits in adult twins reared apart and reared together. J Pers Soc Psychol 55:950–957PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Plomin R, DeFries JC, McClearn GE, McGuffin P (2001) Behavioral genetics. Worth Publisher, United States of AmericaGoogle Scholar
  40. Raftery AE (1995) Bayesian model selection in social research. Sociol Methodol 25:111–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Raine AD, Dodge K, Loeber R, Gatzke-Kopp L, Lynam D, Reynolds C, Stouthamer-Loeber M, Liu J (2006) The reactive-proactive aggression questionnaire: differential correlates of reactive and proactive aggression in adolescent boys. Aggress Behav 32:159–171PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Reynolds B, Ortengren A, Richards JB, de Wit H (2006) Dimensions of impulsive behavior: personality and behavioral measures. Pers Individ Differ 40:305–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rhee SH, Waldman ID (2002) Genetic and environmental influences on antisocial behavior: a meta-analysis of twin and adoption studies. Psychol Bull 128:490–529PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Saklofske DH, Eysenck SB (1983) Impulsiveness and venturesomeness in Canadian children. Psychol Rep 52:147–152PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Seroczynski AD, Bergeman CS, Coccaro EF (1999) Etiology of impulsivity/aggression relationship: genes or environment? Psychiatry Res 86:41–57PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Silverman IW (2003) Gender differences in delay of gratification: a meta-analysis. Sex Roles 49:451–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Spear LP (2000) The adolescent brain and age-related behavioral manifestations. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 24:417–463PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Trimpop RM, Kerr JH, Kirkcaldy B (1999) Comparing personality constructs of risk-taking behavior. J Personality Individ Differ 26:237–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tucker LR, Lewis C (1973) A reliability coefficient for maximum likelihood factor analysis. Psychometrika 38:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Van den Oord EJ, Simonoff E, Eaves L, Pickles A, Silberg J, Maes H (2000) An evaluation of different approaches for behavior genetic analyses with psychiatric symptom scores. Behav Genet 30:1–18PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Verdejo-Garcia A, Bechara A, Recknor EC, Perez-Garcia M (2007) Negative emotion-driven impulsivity predicts substance dependence problems. Drug Alcohol Depend 91:213–219PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. White JL, Moffitt TE, Caspi A, Bartusch DJ, Needles DJ, Stouthamer-Loeber M (1994) Measuring impulsivity and examining its relationship to delinquency. J Abnorm Psychol 103:192–205PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Whiteside SP, Lynam DR (2001) The five factor model and impulsivity: using a structural model of personality to understand impulsivity. Pers Individ Differ 30:669–689CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharon Niv
    • 1
    Email author
  • Catherine Tuvblad
    • 1
  • Adrian Raine
    • 2
  • Pan Wang
    • 1
  • Laura A. Baker
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology (SGM 501)University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Criminology, Psychiatry and PsychologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations