Genes, Environment, and Psychopathology

Course Description

This groundbreaking volume synthesizes the results of the Virginia Adult Twin Study of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders, which yielded longitudinal data on more than 9,000 individuals. The authors trace how risk for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, antisocial behavior, alcoholism, and substance abuse emerges from the interplay of a variety of genetic and environmental influences. Major questions addressed include whether risk is disorder-specific, how to distinguish between correlational and causal genetic and environmental factors, sex differences in risk, and how risk and protective factors interact over time.

About Authors

Kenneth S. Kendler, MD, is the Banks Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Human Genetics at the Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University. Since 1983, he has been engaged in studies of the genetics of psychiatric and substance use disorders, and he has been the director of the Virginia Adult Twin Study of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders since its inception. Dr. Kendler’s work has utilized the methods of both large-scale population-based twin studies and molecular genetics. He has published over 430 peer-reviewed articles, has received a number of national and international awards, is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, serves on several editorial boards, and is Editor of Psychological Medicine. Since 1996, Dr. Kendler has served as Director of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics.

Carol A. Prescott, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California.

Learning Objectives

1. Explain the mechanisms that affect the influence of genetics on substance use disorders.
2. Describe the association between parenting and psychopathology.
3. Explain the difference between correlation and causation in the study of the effects of stressful life events during adulthood on the development of subsequent major depression.
4. Explain how genetic risk factors and environmental interactive influences affect both stability and change in the development and maintenance of major psychopathological syndromes.
5. Describe the genetic transmission of risk as different from the environmental transmission of risk.
6. Describe the ways in which genetic factors alter the sensitivity to the environment and increase the risk for psychopathology.

Course Contents


I Background

  • The Scientific and Social Context of the Virginia Adult Twin Study of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders
  • Methodology Used in the VATSPSUD
  • Twinning and Twin Models

II. Genetic Risk

  • Internalizing Disorders
  • Externalizing and Substance Use Disorders
  • Twin Model Assumptions

III. Environmental Risk

  • Childhood Experiences and Risk for Psychopathology
  • Adult Experiences and Risk for Psychopathology

IV. A Closer Look at Genetic and Environmental Influences

  • Sex Differences
  • Genetic and Environmental Influences on Stability and Change
  • The Genetics of What?: Comorbidity, General versus Specific Effects, and Risk Indicators
  • Three Extensions of the Twin Model

V. Bringing it All Together

  • The Genetics of the Environment
  • Mechanisms for Genetic Control of Exposure to the Environment
  • Is the Relation between Environmental Risk Factors and Psychiatric Disorders Causal?
  • Genetic Control of Sensitivity to the Environment
  • Integrative Models
  • Conclusions