A Twin Study of Normative Personality and DSM-IV Personality Disorder Criterion Counts: Evidence for Separate Genetic Influences

Both normative personality and DSM-IV personality disorders have been found to be heritable.


Objective: However, there is limited knowledge about the extent to which the genetic and environmental influences underlying DSM personality disorders are shared with those of normative personality. The aims of this study were to assess the phenotypic similarity between normative and pathological personality and to investigate the extent to which genetic and environmental influences underlying individual differences in normative personality account for symptom variance across DSM-IV personality disorders.

Method: A large population-based sample of adult twins was assessed for DSM-IV personality disorder criteria with structured interviews at two waves spanning a 10-year interval. At the second assessment, participants also completed the Big Five Inventory, a self-report instrument assessing the five-factor normative personality model. The proportion of genetic and environmental liabilities unique to the individual personality disorder measures, and hence not shared with the five Big Five Inventory domains, were estimated by means of multivariate Cholesky twin decompositions.

Results: The median percentage of genetic liability to the 10 DSM-IV personality disorders assessed at wave 1 that was not shared with the Big Five domains was 64%, whereas for the six personality disorders that were assessed concurrently at wave 2, the median was 39%. Conversely, the median proportions of unique environmental liability in the personality disorders for wave 1 and wave 2 were 97% and 96%, respectively.

Conclusions: The results indicate that a moderate-to-sizable proportion of the genetic influence underlying DSM-IV personality disorders is not shared with the domain constructs of the Big Five model of normative personality. Caution should be exercised in assuming that normative personality measures can serve as proxies for DSM personality disorders when investigating the etiology of these disorders.

The American Journal of Psychiatry, 2018, 175 (7), 649-656

Published Nov. 14, 2018 10:59 AM - Last modified Nov. 14, 2018 10:59 AM