Heritability of social cognitive skills in children and adolescents

Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff.
The British Journal of Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 7.99). 12/1999; 175(6):559-64. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.175.6.559
Source: PubMed


Social cognitive skills are those which enable understanding of social situations; they are relevant to a variety of psychiatric disorders including autism, schizophrenia and externalizing behaviour problems in children.
To examine the heritability of social cognitive skills.
Using a population-based sample of twins aged 5-17, the genetic and environmental influences on social cognitive skills were examined.
Male scores were higher than female scores (P < 0.001), indicating poorer social cognition among males. A heritability of 0.68 (95% CI 0.43-0.78) was found, with shared environmental influences accounting for only 0.05 of the variance (95% CI 0.00-0.28). This could be removed from the model without worsening the fit. There were no significant differences in genetic effects between the genders, but age-related changes were found, with younger twins showing greater genetic influence on social cognition.
Social cognition appears to be under considerable genetic influence in the population and shows significant male-female differences. No gender differences in genetic influences on the variance of scores were found, but the effects of age were significant.

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    • "Liu et al. (2001) identified one genetic locus (11g23) that was related to measures of joint attention taken from the Autism Diagnostic Interview –Revised test in a large sample of individuals with a diagnosis of ASD. Two studies have also shown that some of the traits associated with autism such as socio-communicative competence, as measured by parent questionnaires, are significantly heritable2223. Despite the long standing evidence of genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees, there are very few studies that have examined the role of genes on social behavior and cognition in apes2425. "
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    • "One of the possible explanations for the added challenge to achieving shared reality among adoptive families comes from behavior genetics research. Many cognitive processes, attitudes, and physical characteristics underlying perceptions are, to some extent, a function of genetic inheritance (e.g., Jang, McCrae, Angleitner, Reimann & Livesley, 1998; Lykken, Bouchard, McGue, & Tellegen, 1993; Olson, Vernon, Harries & Jang, 2001; Scourfield, Martin, Lewis & McGuffin, 1999; Tesser, 1993). The possible presence of inherited similarities allows genetically related family members to sometimes view a topic similarly, even without discussing the topic. "
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    • "Aside from the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (Baron-Cohen et al. 2006; Auyeung et al. 2008) and the Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (Williams et al. 2008), the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS; Constantino and Gruber 2005) and the Social and Communication Disorders Checklist (SCDC; Skuse et al. 2005) explicitly aim to measure autistic traits in children and adolescents. They have both demonstrated good psychometric properties, continuously distributed scores in large general population samples, single factor solutions and high heritability of the features assessed (Constantino and Todd 2003; Constantino et al. 2004; Scourfield et al. 1999; Skuse et al. 2005; Skuse et al. 2009). The SRS has also demonstrated cross-cultural validity (Bölte et al. 2008b). "
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