Altruism and aggression: the heritability of individual differences

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1986 Jun;50(6):1192-8. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.50.6.1192.


Five questionnaires measuring altruistic and aggressive tendencies were completed by 573 adult twin pairs of both sexes from the University of London Institute of Psychiatry Volunteer Twin Register. The questionnaires measured altruism, empathy, nurturance, aggressiveness, and assertiveness. The intraclass correlations for the five scales, respectively, were .53, .54, .49, .40, and .52 for 296 monozygotic pairs, and .25, .20, .14, .04, and .20 for 179 same-sex dizygotic pairs, resulting in broad heritability estimates of 56%, 68%, 70%, 72%, and 64%. Additional analyses, using maximum-likelihood model-fitting, revealed approximately 50% of the variance on each scale to be associated with genetic effects, virtually 0% with the twins' common environment, and the remaining 50% with each twins' specific environment and/or error associated with the test. Correcting for the unreliability in the tests raised the maximum-likelihood heritabilities to approximately 60%. Age and sex differences were also found: altruism increased over the age span from 19 to 60, whereas aggressiveness decreased, and, at each age, women had higher scores than men on altruism and lower scores on aggressiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Altruism*
  • Assertiveness
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • Twins / psychology*
  • Twins, Dizygotic / psychology*
  • Twins, Monozygotic / psychology*