Developmental changes in genetic and environmental influences on rule-breaking and aggression: age and pubertal development

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Antisocial behavior (ASB) can be meaningfully divided into nonaggressive rule-breaking versus aggressive dimensions, which differ in developmental course and etiology. Previous research has found that genetic influences on rule-breaking, but not aggression, increase from late childhood to mid-adolescence. This study tested the extent to which the developmental increase in genetic influence on rule-breaking was associated with pubertal development compared to chronological age.


Child and adolescent twins (n = 1,031), ranging in age from 8 to 20 years (M age = 13.5 years), were recruited from public schools as part of the Texas Twin Project. Participants reported on their pubertal development using the Pubertal Development Scale and on their involvement in ASB on items from the Child Behavior Checklist. Measurement invariance of ASB subtypes across age groups (≤12 years vs. >12 years old) was tested using confirmatory factor analyses. Quantitative genetic modeling was used to test whether the genetic and environmental influences on aggression and rule-breaking were moderated by age, pubertal status, or both.


Quantitative genetic modeling indicated that genetic influences specific to rule-breaking increased as a function of pubertal development controlling for age (a gene × puberty interaction), but did not vary as a function of age controlling for pubertal status. There were no developmental differences in the genetic etiology of aggression. Family-level environmental influences common to aggression and rule-breaking decreased with age, further contributing to the differentiation between these subtypes of ASB from childhood to adolescence.


Future research should discriminate between alternative possible mechanisms underlying gene × puberty interactions on rule-breaking forms of antisocial behavior, including possible effects of pubertal hormones on gene expression.

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