What can we learn from twin studies? A comprehensive evaluation of the equal environments assumption

Soc Sci Res. 2014 Jan:43:184-99. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2013.10.004. Epub 2013 Oct 22.


Twin studies are a major source of information about genetic effects on behavior, but they depend on a controversial assumption known as the equal environments assumption (EEA): that similarity in co-twins' environments is not predictive of similarity in co-twin outcomes. Although evidence has largely supported the EEA, critics have claimed that environmental similarity has not been measured well, and most studies of the EEA have focused on outcomes related to health and psychology. This article addresses these limitations through (1) a reanalysis of data from the most cited study of the EEA, Loehlin and Nichols (1976), using better measures, and through (2) an analysis of nationally representative twin data from MIDUS using more comprehensive controls on a wider variety of outcomes than previous studies. Results support a middle ground position; it is likely that the EEA is not strictly valid for most outcomes, but the resulting bias is likely modest.

Keywords: Behavior genetics; Equal environments assumption; Twin studies.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bias*
  • Child
  • Diseases in Twins / etiology
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics*
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurotic Disorders / etiology
  • Neurotic Disorders / genetics*
  • Social Environment*
  • Twin Studies as Topic / standards*
  • Twins*
  • United States