Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 46, Issue 6, pp 1217–1228 | Cite as

Do Genetic Factors Explain the Links Between Callous-Unemotional, Attention Hyperactivity and Oppositional Defiant Problems in Toddlers?

  • Megan FlomEmail author
  • Kimberly J. Saudino


Research demonstrates that callous-unemotional (CU) behaviors, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Problems (ODD) are related, but little is known about the sources of covariation among the three externalizing behaviors. The present study looked at genetic and environmental links between all three behavioral domains in twins at ages 2 and 3 years (MZ = 145, DZ = 169), a time when CU behaviors are beginning to emerge. CU, ADHD, and ODD behaviors as assessed using the Child Behavior Checklist 1.5–5 (Achenbach and Rescorla 2000) were strongly interrelated at both ages. Genetic factors primarily explained the covariation among the three behavioral domains via a common externalizing factor; however, there were also genetic factors unique to each behavior. Furthermore, the majority of nonshared environmental influences on each externalizing behavior were behavior-specific. The heritable externalizing factor was highly stable across age, largely due to genetic factors shared across ages 2 and 3 years. Despite their extensive phenotypic and genetic overlap, CU, ADHD, and ODD behaviors have unique genetic and nonshared environmental influences as early as toddlerhood. This supports phenotypic research showing that the three are related but distinct constructs in very young children.


Callous-unemotional ADHD ODD Early childhood Twins Behavior problems 



The Boston University Twin Project (BUTP) is supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH062375) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD068435) to Dr. Saudino. The twins’ and families’ participation is gratefully acknowledged.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study was approved by the Boston University Institutional Review Board.

Informed Consent

Parents provided informed consent for their twins’ participation at the beginning of the first visit to the lab.

Supplementary material

10802_2017_361_MOESM1_ESM.docx (249 kb)
FigS. 1. Full Longitudinal Bivariate Common Pathway Model. 95% confidence intervals are presented in parentheses. EXT represents the common externalizing factor; A = additive genetic influences on the common factor; C = shared environmental influences on the common factor; E = nonshared environmental influences on the common factor; a = unique genetic influences on each behavior (CU, ADHD and ODD); c = unique shared environmental influences on each behavior; e = unique nonshared environmental influences on each behavior. *Although the CIs include zero, they could not be dropped without a significant decrement in fit (Δχ 2  = 10.897, df = 3, p = 0.01). (DOCX 248 kb) (DOCX 248 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Boston UniversityBostonUSA

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