Background: Much of our knowledge of the role of genetic factors in the etiology of phobias comes from one population-based sample of female twins. We examined the sources of individual differences in the risks for phobias and their associated irrational fears in male twins.
Methods: In personal interviews with both members of 1198 male-male twin pairs (707 monozygotic [MZ] and 491 dizygotic [DZ]) ascertained from a population-based registry, we assessed the lifetime history of agoraphobia and social, animal, situational, and blood/injury phobias as well as their associated irrational fears. Twin resemblance was assessed by means of probandwise concordance, odds ratios, tetrachoric correlations, and univariate and multivariate biometrical model fitting.
Results: The suggestive results obtained by analysis of phobias only were supported by analyzing both fears and phobias. All 5 phobia subtypes aggregate within twin-pairs. This aggregation is due largely or solely to genetic factors with heritability of liabilities ranging from 25% to 37%. Multivariate analysis revealed a common genetic factor, genetic factors specific to each subtype, and a common familial-environmental factor.
Conclusions: In male subjects, genetic risk factors, which are partially common across all subtypes and partially subtype specific, play a moderate role in the etiology of phobias and their associated irrational fears. Family environment probably has an impact on risk for agoraphobia and social phobia. The genetic liability to blood/injury phobias is not distinct from those of the more typical phobias.