Externalizing problems, attention regulation, and household chaos: a longitudinal behavioral genetic study

Dev Psychopathol. 2012 Aug;24(3):755-69. doi: 10.1017/S0954579412000351.


Previous research documented a robust link between difficulties in self-regulation and development of externalizing problems (i.e., aggression and delinquency). In this study, we examined the longitudinal additive and interactive genetic and environmental covariation underlying this well-established link using a twin design. The sample included 131 pairs of monozygotic twins and 173 pairs of same-sex dizygotic twins who participated in three waves of annual assessment. Mothers and fathers provided reports of externalizing problems. Teacher report and observer rating were used to assess twin's attention regulation. The etiology underlying the link between externalizing problems and attention regulation shifted from a common genetic mechanism to a common environmental mechanism in the transition across middle childhood. Household chaos moderated the genetic variance of and covariance between externalizing problems and attention regulation. The genetic influence on individual differences in both externalizing problems and attention regulation was stronger in more chaotic households. However, higher levels of household chaos attenuated the genetic link between externalizing problems and attention regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Attention*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / genetics*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Twins / genetics*
  • Twins / psychology