A Multivariate Genetic Analysis of Specific Phobia, Separation Anxiety and Social Phobia in Early Childhood

Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, De'Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.
Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology (Impact Factor: 3.48). 09/2008; 36(6):839-48. DOI: 10.1007/s10802-008-9216-x
Source: PubMed


Comorbidity amongst anxiety disorders is very common in children as in adults and leads to considerable distress and impairment, yet is poorly understood. Multivariate genetic analyses can shed light on the origins of this comorbidity by revealing whether genetic or environmental risks for one disorder also influence another. We examined the genetic and environmental influences on the comorbidity between three common childhood anxiety disorders: Specific Phobia, Separation Anxiety and Social Phobia.
Using a two-phase design 4,662 twin-pairs were screened in the first phase and 854 pairs were assessed in the second phase by maternal-informant diagnostic interview using DSM-IV criteria.
Multivariate genetic analysis revealed significant shared environmental over-lap between Specific Phobia and Separation Anxiety and significant familial and non-shared environmental over-lap between Specific Phobia and Social Phobia.
Familial influences, especially shared environment, are central to the comorbidity between Specific Phobia and both Separation Anxiety and Social Phobia.

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    • "It is an antecedent of adult anxiety disorders and linked to depression in young adults (Hirshfeld-Becker et al. 2008). Symptoms of separation anxiety have been found to be more influenced by the shared environment than by heritability; therefore, gaining insight into familial factors that may maintain or exacerbate separation anxiety seems to be very important (Eley et al. 2008). "
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    • "However, shared (e.g., parenting styles) and nonshared (e.g., peers) environmental influences are both critical in social anxiety and depression. Importantly, nonshared environmental influences have been found to differentiate social anxiety from other types of anxiety (Hallett et al. 2009), and to be the only influence on SAD in early childhood (Eley et al. 2008). Thus, nonshared environmental influences may be especially pertinent for social anxiety. "
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