On Negative Heritability and Negative Estimates of Heritability

Genetics. 2020 Jun;215(2):343-357. doi: 10.1534/genetics.120.303161. Epub 2020 Apr 14.


We consider the problem of interpreting negative maximum likelihood estimates of heritability that sometimes arise from popular statistical models of additive genetic variation. These may result from random noise acting on estimates of genuinely positive heritability, but we argue that they may also arise from misspecification of the standard additive mechanism that is supposed to justify the statistical procedure. Researchers should be open to the possibility that negative heritability estimates could reflect a real physical feature of the biological process from which the data were sampled.

Keywords: Epistasis; GREML; Heritability; Linear mixed model; Model misspecification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Multifactorial Inheritance*
  • Phenotype*
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable*