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Heritability and Longitudinal Stability of Impulsivity in Adolescence

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Sharon Niv.

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Edited by Irwin Waldman.

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Niv, S., Tuvblad, C., Raine, A. et al. Heritability and Longitudinal Stability of Impulsivity in Adolescence. Behav Genet 42, 378–392 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10519-011-9518-6

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Keywords

  • Impulsivity
  • Adolescence
  • Longitudinal
  • Heritability