Environmental, Not Genetic Links Found for Anxiety Disorders in Twin Study


In what the editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry called a “landmark” study, an international team of researchers re-examined data from the large Twin and Offspring Study of Sweden, and discovered environmental factors more readily explained anxiety “inheritance” than did genetics.

The researchers used Structural Equation Modeling to try to parse out and quantify the various effects from genetic and environmental factors that were linking parental anxiety and child anxiety.

“For both anxiety and neuroticism, the models provide support for significant direct environmental transmission from parents to their adolescent offspring,” reported Psychiatric News. “In contrast, there was no evidence of significant genetic transmission.”

The editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry told Psychiatric News, “This study is a landmark, because it is the first to clearly establish the early transmission of anxiety symptoms from parents to children, not through their shared genetic background, but rather from the way in which anxious parents raise their children. Parents who are anxious can now be counseled and educated on ways to minimize the impact of their anxiety on the child’s development.”

Anxious Parents Can Transmit Anxiety to Children, Twin Study Shows (Psychiatric News Alert, April 27, 2015)

Eley, Thalia C., Tom A. McAdams, Fruhling V. Rijsdijk, Paul Lichtenstein, Jurgita Narusyte, David Reiss, Erica L. Spotts, Jody M. Ganiban, and Jenae M. Neiderhiser. “The Intergenerational Transmission of Anxiety: A Children-of-Twins Study.” American Journal of Psychiatry, April 23, 2015, appi.ajp.2015.14070818. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14070818. (Full text)


  1. I can’t resent that published finding. The whole research project wreaks of actual forethought, too. What would get these same trade journals to take up the issues of due process and human rights protections in clinical settings. Easy question to answer… full ownership and management by civil libertarians.

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  2. This is extremely important news – it has implications for every other “mental disorder” in the DSM. Their biggest support for their “genetic inheritance” theory is these twin studies. If anxiety can be transmitted early in life, why not depression, aggression, or even paranoia or delusions?

    Unfortunately, it will probably get buried somewhere and no one will really talk about the results. Between those who feel sorry for the parents and don’t want to say anything that “blames” them (even if it would actually help them do a better job!) and those who are currently profiting financially and professionally from the “genetic inheritance” assumption, most of the luminaries in the “mental health” industry will find this study terrifying.

    —- Steve

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