Phenotypic and genetic structure of traits delineating personality disorder

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1998 Oct;55(10):941-8. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.55.10.941.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Genetic
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Personality / classification
  • Personality / genetics*
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Personality Disorders / classification
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Personality Disorders / genetics*
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Phenotype