Background: Conduct disorder (CD) and peer deviance (PD) both powerfully predict future externalizing behaviors. Although levels of CD and PD are strongly correlated, the causal relationship between them has remained controversial and has not been examined by a genetically informative study.
Method: Levels of CD and PD were assessed in 746 adult male-male twin pairs at personal interview for ages 8-11, 12-14 and 15-17 years using a life history calendar. Model fitting was performed using the Mx program.
Results: The best-fit model indicated an active developmental relationship between CD and PD including forward transmission of both traits over time and strong causal relationships between CD and PD within time periods. The best-fit model indicated that the causal relationship for genetic risk factors was from CD to PD and was constant over time. For common environmental factors, the causal pathways ran from PD to CD and were stronger in earlier than later age periods.
Conclusion: A genetically informative model revealed causal pathways difficult to elucidate by other methods. Genes influence risk for CD, which, through social selection, impacts on the deviance of peers. Shared environment, through family and community processes, encourages or discourages adolescent deviant behavior, which, via social influence, alters risk for CD. Social influence is more important than social selection in childhood, but by late adolescence social selection becomes predominant. These findings have implications for prevention efforts for CD and associated externalizing disorders.