Behavior Genetics

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 326–336 | Cite as

Assessing Genetic Influences on Behavior: Informant and Context Dependency as Illustrated by the Analysis of Attention Problems

  • Kees-Jan KanEmail author
  • Catharina E. M. van Beijsterveldt
  • Meike Bartels
  • Dorret I. Boomsma
Original Research


Assessment of genetic influences on behavior depends on context, informants, and study design: We show (analytically) that, conditional on study design, informant specific genetic variance is included in the genetic variance component or in the environmental variance component. To aid the explanation, we present an illustrative empirical analysis of data from the Netherlands Twin Register. Subjects included 1,571 monozygotic and 2,672 dizygotic 12-year-old twin pairs whose attention problems (AP) were rated by their parents, teachers, and themselves. Heritability estimates (h 2) of AP were about ~0.75 for same informant ratings (mother, father, and same teacher ratings) and ~0.54 for different informants’ ratings (different parents’, different teachers’, and two twins’ self-ratings). Awareness of assessment effects is relevant to research into psychiatric disorders. Differences in assessment can account for age effects, such as a drop in heritability of ADHD symptoms. In genome-wide association studies, effects of rating specific genetic influences will be undetectable.


(Missing) heritability Informant effects Context dependent behavior Attention problems ADHD 



We gratefully acknowledge the following Grants: Genetic influences on stability and change in psychopathology from childhood to young adulthood (ZonMW 912-10-020); Genetics of Mental Illness (European Research Council; ERC-230374) and support from the Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam (NCA). We thank Tina Glasner, Evelien de Zeeuw, Michelle van Fulpen, and Cyrina Brouwer for their assistance in the acquisition of the data and for administrative, technical, and material support.

Conflict of Interest

Kees-Jan Kan, Catharina E. M. van Beijsterveldt, Meike Bartels, and Dorret Boomsma declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008. Informed consent was obtained from the parents of all participants for being included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kees-Jan Kan
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Catharina E. M. van Beijsterveldt
    • 1
    • 3
  • Meike Bartels
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • Dorret I. Boomsma
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biological PsychologyVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of MethodologyVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.EMGO+ Institute for Health and CareVU University Medical CenterAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam (NCA)AmsterdamThe Netherlands

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