Background: 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.
Aims: To examine the heritability of social cognitive skills.
Method: Using a population-based sample of twins aged 5-17, the genetic and environmental influences on social cognitive skills were examined.
Results: 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.
Conclusions: 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.