Twin studies typically indicate shared environmental influence for cognitive abilities, especially in early childhood. However, across studies, DZ twin correlations tend to be greater than non-twin sibling correlations, suggesting that twin estimates of shared environment are to some extent specific to twins. We tested this hypothesis in a sample of more than 1800 MZ and 1800 same-sex DZ pairs from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), a study of twins born in England and Wales in 1994 and 1995. For this analysis, we obtained comparable data from more than 130 same-sex younger siblings of the twins. Twins and their younger siblings were assessed for language, cognitive abilities and behavior problems by their parents at 2 and 3 years of age. For language and cognitive measures at both 2 and 3 years, but not for behavior problems, estimates of shared environment were more than twice as large for twins as compared to non-twin siblings. We conclude that about half of twin study estimates of shared environment for cognitive abilities in early childhood are specific to twins. Although many possibilities exist for explaining the special shared environment effect for twins, we suggest that cognitive-relevant experiences that are not shared by siblings are shared by twins because they are exactly the same age.
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