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Genetic and Phenotypic Stability of Measures of Neuroticism Over 22 Years

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2012

Naomi R. Wray*
Affiliation:
Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia. Naomi.Wray@qimr.edu.au
Andrew J. Birley
Affiliation:
Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia.
Patrick F. Sullivan
Affiliation:
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States of America.
Peter M. Visscher
Affiliation:
Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia.
Nicholas G. Martin
Affiliation:
Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia.
*
*Address for correspondence: Dr Naomi R. Wray, Genetic Epidemiology, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, 300 Herston Road, Brisbane QLD 4029, Australia.

Abstract

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People meeting diagnostic criteria for anxiety or depressive disorders tend to score high on the personality scale of neuroticism. Studying this dimension of personality can therefore give insights into the etiology of important psychiatric disorders. Neuroticism can be assessed easily via self-report questionnaires in large population samples. We have examined the genetic and phenotypic stability of neuroticism, measured up to 4 times over 22 years, on different scales, on a data set of 4999 families with over 20,000 individuals completing at least 1 neuroticism questionnaire. The neuroticism scales used were the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire revised (EPQ-R), the EPQ-R shortened form, and the NEO 5 factor inventory personality questionnaire. The estimates of heritability of the individual measures ranged from .26 ± .04 to .36 ± .03. Genetic, environmental, and phenotypic correlations averaged .91, .42, and .57 respectively. Despite the range in heritabilities, a more parsimonious ‘repeatability model’ of equal additive genetic variances and genetic correlations of unity could not be rejected. Use of multiple measures increases the effective heritability from .33 for a single measure to .43 for mean score because of the reduction in the estimate of the environmental variance, and this will increase power in genetic linkage or association studies of neuroticism.

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