Genetic influences on psychological well-being: a nationally representative twin study

J Pers. 2013 Apr;81(2):221-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2012.00787.x. Epub 2013 Feb 5.


Objective: Psychological well-being, or eudaimonia, features strongly in theories of human development and thriving. However, the factors of eudaimonia are debated, and their genetic architecture has not been studied in detail.

Method: A classical twin design was used to decompose behavioral variance into genetic and environmental components implemented in a multigroup, multivariate structural equation modeling framework. Subjects were 837 pairs of adult U.S. twins from the nationally representative MIDUS II sample. Psychological well-being was measured using the 42-item Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, which assesses autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance.

Results: Substantial genetic influences were observed on all components of well-being. Attempts to model these six factors as reflecting a single common psychological mechanism gave a poor fit to the data. The best-fitting model supported the existence of five distinct genetic effects. Effects of shared environment were weak and nonsignificant. Unique environmental effects for all measures were mostly trait specific.

Conclusions: These results indicate that psychological well-being is underpinned by a general genetic factor influencing self-control, and four underlying biological mechanisms enabling the psychological capabilities of purpose, agency, growth, and positive social relations.

Publication types

  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Personality / genetics*
  • Social Environment
  • Twins / genetics
  • Twins / psychology*