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The heritability of hedonic capacity and perceived stress: a twin study evaluation of candidate depressive phenotypes

  • R. Bogdan (a1) and D. A. Pizzagalli (a1)

Anhedonia and stress sensitivity have been identified as promising depressive phenotypes. Research suggests that stress-induced anhedonia is a possible mechanism underlying the association between stress and depression. The present proof-of-concept study assessed whether hedonic capacity and stress perception are heritable and whether their genetic and environmental contributions are shared.


Twenty monozygotic (MZ) and 15 dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs completed a probabilistic reward task that provides an objective behavioral measure of hedonic capacity (reward responsiveness) and completed several questionnaires including the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Bivariate Cholesky models were used to investigate whether covariation between (1) depressive symptoms and hedonic capacity, (2) depressive symptoms and perceived stress, and (3) perceived stress and hedonic capacity resulted from shared or residual genetic and environmental factors.


Additive genetic (A) and individual-specific environment (E) factors contributed to 46% and 54% of the variance in hedonic capacity, respectively. For perceived stress, 44% and 56% of the variance was accounted for by A and E factors, respectively. The genetic correlation between depression and hedonic capacity was moderate (ra=0.29), whereas the correlation between depression and stress perception was large (ra=0.67). Genetic and environmental correlations between hedonic capacity and stress perception were large (ra=0.72 and re=−0.43).


The present study provides initial feasibility for using a twin approach to investigate genetic contributions of a laboratory-based anhedonic phenotype. Although these preliminary findings indicate that hedonic capacity and perceived stress are heritable, with substantial shared additive genetic contributions, replications in larger samples will be needed.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: D. A. Pizzagalli, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 1220 William James Hall, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. (Email:
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