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Parental criticism and adolescent internalising symptoms: Using a Children-of-Twins design with power calculations to account for genetic influence

By Yasmin I Ahmadzadeh, Thalia C Eley, Laurie J Hannigan, Cathy Creswell, Paul Lichtenstein, David Reiss, Erica Spotts, Jody Ganiban, Jenae M Neiderhiser, Fruhling V Rijsdijk, Tom A McAdams

Posted 11 May 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.07.20084319

Objective Parental criticism is associated with internalising symptoms in adolescent offspring. It is unclear whether these behaviours cause one another, and/or whether they are influenced by shared genes in related parent-offspring pairs. We use an Extended Children of Twins design to assess whether parent-reported criticism and offspring internalising symptoms remain associated after controlling for shared genes. To aid interpretation of our results and those of previous Children of Twins studies, we examine statistical power for the detection of genetic effects and explore the direction of psychosocial influences between generations. Method Data were drawn from two Swedish twin samples, comprising 876 adult twin pairs with adolescent offspring and 1030 adolescent twin pairs with parents. Parents reported on criticism towards their offspring, concurrently with parent and offspring reports of adolescent internalising symptoms. Extended Children of Twins structural equation models were used to examine intergenerational social and genetic mechanisms. Results Parental criticism was associated with adolescent internalising symptoms after controlling for genetic relatedness. No significant role was found for shared genes influencing phenotypes in both generations. Power analyses confirmed that any undetected genetic effects were small. Models could not distinguish the causal direction of possible psychosocial effects between generations. Conclusion The association between parent-reported criticism and adolescent internalising symptoms is not attributable to genetic confounding in this sample. As such, parental criticism may be involved in psychosocial family processes in the context of adolescent internalising. Future studies should seek to identify these processes and provide clarity on the direction of potential causal effects.

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