Background: The evidence suggests that personality traits are hierarchically organized with more specific or lower-order traits combining to form more generalized higher-order traits. Agreement exists across studies regarding the lower-order traits that delineate personality disorder but not the higher-order traits. This study seeks to identify the higher-order structure of personality disorder by examining the phenotypic and genetic structures underlying lower-order traits.
Methods: Eighteen lower-order traits were assessed using the Dimensional Assessment of Personality Disorder-Basic Questionnaire in samples of 656 personality disordered patients, 939 general population subjects, and a volunteer sample of 686 twin pairs.
Results: Principal components analysis yielded 4 components, labeled Emotional Dysregulation, Dissocial Behavior, Inhibitedness, and Compulsivity, that were similar across the 3 samples. Multivariate genetic analyses also yielded 4 genetic and environmental factors that were remarkably similar to the phenotypic factors. Analysis of the residual heritability of the lower-order traits when the effects of the higher-order factors were removed revealed a substantial residual heritable component for 12 of the 18 traits.
Conclusions: The results support the following conclusions. First, the stable structure of traits across clinical and nonclinical samples is consistent with dimensional representations of personality disorders. Second, the higher-order traits of personality disorder strongly resemble dimensions of normal personality. This implies that a dimensional classification should be compatible with normative personality. Third, the residual heritability of the lower-order traits suggests that the personality phenotypes are based on a large number of specific genetic components.