Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Genetic and environmental contributions to retrospectively reported DSM-IV childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • B. C. Haberstick (a1) (a2), D. Timberlake (a1) (a3), C. J. Hopfer (a2), J. M. Lessem (a1), M. A. Ehringer (a1) and J. K Hewitt (a1)...

A variety of methodologies and techniques converge on the notion that adults and children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have similar deficits, but there is limited knowledge about whether adult retrospective reports reflect similar genetic and environmental influences implicated in childhood ADHD.


DSM-IV ADHD symptoms were collected retrospectively from 3896 young adults participating in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Responses from this genetically informative sample of same- and opposite-sex twins and siblings were used to determine the magnitude of genetic and environmental influences. Possible gender differences in these effects were also examined. The degree of familial specificity of the genetic and environmental influences on the Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive symptom dimensions was also determined.


Additive genetic effects contributed moderately to DSM-IV Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive and Combined ADHD subtypes (heritability estimates of 0.30–0.38). Individual-specific influences accounted for the remaining proportion of the variance. Both genetic and individual-specific environmental effects contributed to the covariation of Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive symptomologies.


Results from our genetic analyses agree with previous findings based on self-assessment of current and retrospectively reported ADHD symptoms in adolescents and adults. Large individual-specific environmental influences as identified here suggest that current questionnaires used for retrospective diagnoses may not provide the most accurate reconstruction of the etiological influences on childhood ADHD in general population samples.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr B. C. Haberstick, Institute of Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado, Campus Box 0447, Boulder, CO 80309-0447, USA. (Email:
Hide All
Akaike H (1987). Factor analyses and AIC. Psychometrika 52, 317322.
Barkley RA, Fischer M, Smallish L, Fletcher K (2002). The persistence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder into young adulthood as a function of reporting source and definition of disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 111, 279289.
Barkley RA, Fischer M, Smallish L, Fletcher K (2004). Young adult follow-up of hyperactive children: antisocial activities and drug use. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45, 195211.
Barkley RA, Murphy KR (1998). Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Clinical Workbook, 2nd edn.Guilford Press: New York, NY.
Biederman J, Monuteaux MC, Mick E, Spencer T, Wilens TE, Silva JM, Snyder LE, Faraone SV (2006). Young adult outcome of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a controlled 10-year follow-up study. Psychological Medicine 36, 167179.
Ehringer MA, Rhee SH, Young S, Corley R, Hewitt JK (2006). Genetic and environmental contributions to common psychopathologies of childhood and adolescence: a study of twins and their siblings. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 34, 117.
Faraone SV, Biederman J, Feighner JA, Monuteaux MC (2000). Assessing symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults: which is more valid? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 68, 830842.
Faraone SV, Beiderman J, Mick E (2005). The age-dependent decline of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a meta-analysis of follow-up studies. Psychological Medicine 35, 17.
Faraone SV, Biederman J, Spencer T, Mick E, Murray K, Petty C, Adamson JJ, Monuteaux MC (2006). Diagnosing adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: are late onset and subthreshold diagnoses valid? American Journal of Psychiatry 163, 17201729.
Harris MH, Halpern CT, Smolen A, Haberstick BC (2006). The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) twin data. Twin Research and Human Genetics 9, 988997.
Hervey AS, Epstein JN, Curry JF (2004). Neuropsychology of adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a meta-analytic review. Neuropsychology 18, 485503.
Hudziak JJ, Derks EM, Althoff RR, Rettew DC, Boomsma DI (2005). The genetic and environmental contributions to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as measured by the Conners' Rating Scales-Revised. American Journal of Psychiatry 162, 16141620.
Kooij JJS, Buitelaar JK, van den Oord EJ, Furer JW, Rijnders CATH, Godiamont PPG (2004). Internal and external validity of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in a population-based sample of adults. Psychological Medicine 34, 111.
Knopik VS, Heath AC, Jacob T, Slutske WS, Bucholz KK, Madden PAAF, Waldron M, Martin NG (2006). Maternal alcohol use disorder and offspring ADHD: disentangling genetic and environmental effects using a children-of-twin design. Psychological Medicine 31, 111.
Linnet KM, Dalsgaard S, Obel C, Wisborg K, Henriksen TB, Rodriguez A, Kotimaa A, Moilanen I, Trhomsen PH, Olsen J, Jarvelin MR (2003). Maternal lifestyle factor in pregnancy risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and associated behaviors: review of the current evidence. American Journal of Psychiatry 160, 10281040.
Magnusson P, Smari J, Siguroardottir D, Baldursson G, Sigmundsson J, Kristjansson K, Siguroardottir S, Hreioarsson S, Sigurbjornsdottir S, Guomundsson O (2006). Validity of self-report and informant rating scales of adult ADHD symptoms in comparison with semistructured diagnostic interview. Journal of Attention Disorders 9, 494503.
Mannuzza S, Klien RG, Klein DF, Bessler A, Shrout P (2002). Accuracy of adult recall of childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 157, 18821888.
Mancini C, Van Ameringen M, Oakman JM, Figueiredo D (1999). Childhood attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults with anxiety disorders. Psychological Medicine 29, 515525.
Martin N, Scourfield J, McGuffin P (2002). Observed effects and heritability of childhood attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms. British Journal of Psychiatry 180, 260265.
McCann BS, Scheele L, Ward N, Roy-Byrne P (2000). Discriminant validity of the Wender Utah Ratings Scale for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 12, 240245.
McGough JJ, Barkley RA (2004). Diagnostic controversies in adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 161, 19481956.
Muglia P, Jain U, Inkster B, Kennedy JL (2002). A quantitative trait locus analysis of the dopamine transporter gene in adults with ADHD. Neuropsychopharmacology 27, 655662.
Muglia P, Jain U, Macciardi F, Kennedy JL (2000). Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the dopamine D4 receptor gene. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics) 96, 273277.
Murphy K, Barkley RA (1996). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder adults: comorbidities and adaptive impairments. Comprehensive Psychiatry 37, 393401.
Murphy P, Schachar R (2000). Use of self-ratings in the assessment of symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults. American Journal of Psychiatry 157, 11561159.
Neale MC, Boker SM, Xie G, Maes H (1999). Mx: Statistical Modeling. Department of Psychiatry, : Richmond, VA.
Neale MC, Cardon LR (1992). Methodology for Genetic Study of Twins and Families. Kluwer Academic Publishers: Dordrecht.
Neale MC, Roysamb E, Jacobson K (2006). Multivariate genetic analysis of sex limitation and G×E interaction. Twin Research and Human Genetics 9, 481489.
Retz W, Thome J, Blocher D, Baader M, Rosler M (2002). Association of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder-related psychopathology and personality traits with the serotonin transporter region polymorphism. Neuroscience Letters 319, 133136.
Rhee SH, Waldman ID, Hay DA, Levy F (1999). Sex differences in genetic and environmental influences on DSM-III-R attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 108, 2441.
Rietveld MJ, Hudziak JJ, Bartels M, van Beijsterveldt CE, Boomsma DI (2004). Heritability of attention problems in children: longitudinal results from a study of twins, age 3 to 12. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45, 577588.
Schultz MR, Rabi K, Faraone SV, Kremen W, Lyon MJ (2006). Efficacy of retrospective recall of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms: a twin study. Twin Research and Human Genetics 9, 220232.
Seidman LJ, Biederman J, Weber W, Hatch M, Faraone SV (1998). Neuropsychological function in adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry 44, 260268.
Spencer T, Biderman J, Wilens T, Doyle R, Surman C, Prince J, Mick E, Aleardi M, Herzig K, Faraone SV (2005). A large, double-blind, randomized clinical trial of methylphenidate in the treatment of adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry 57, 456463.
Stein MA, Sandoval R, Szumowski E, Roizen N, Reinecke MA, Blondis TA, Klein Z (1995). Psychometric characteristics of the Wender Utah Rating Scale (WURS): reliability and factor structure for men and women. Psychopharmacology Bulletin 31, 425433.
Thapar A, Holmes J, Poulton K, Harrington R (1999). Genetic basis of attention deficit and hyperactivity. British Journal of Psychiatry 174, 105111.
Turner DC, Blackwell AD, Dowson JH, McLean A, Sahakian BJ (2005). Neurocognitive effects of methyphenidate in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychopharmacology 178, 286295.
van den Berg SM, Willemsen G, de Geus EJC, Boomsmam DI (2006). Genetic etiology of stability of attention problems in young adulthood. American Journal of Medical Genetics 141B, 5560.
Ward MF, Wender PH, Reimherr FW (1993). The Wender Utah Rating Scale: an aid in the retrospective diagnosis of childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 150, 885890.
Weiss MD, Weiss JR (2004). A guide to the treatment of adults with ADHD. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 65, 2737.
Wender PH, Reimherr FW, Wood DR (1981). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (‘minimal brain dysfunction’) in adults. Archives of General Psychiatry 38, 449456.
Wender PH, Wolf LE, Wasserstein J (2001). Adults with ADHD: an overview. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 931, 116.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 10 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 101 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.