Helsingin yliopisto

 

Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Implications of co-twin dependence for twins' social interactions, mental health and alcohol use

A follow-up study of Finnish twins from adolescence to early adulthood

Varpu Penninkilampi-Kerola

Doctoral dissertation, August 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health, Twin Research Unit and University of Oulu, Department of Paediatrics.

Objective: The aim of the present study was to examine co-twin dependence and its impact on twins' social contacts, leisure-time activities and psycho-emotional well-being. The role of co-twin dependence was also examined as a moderator of genetic and environmental influences on alcohol use in adolescence and in early adulthood.

Methods: The present report is based on the Finnish Twin Cohort Study (FinnTwin16), a population-based study of five consecutive birth cohorts of Finnish twins born in the years 1975-1979. Baseline assessments were collected through mailed questionnaires, within two months of the twins' sixteenth birthday yielding replies from 5563 twin individuals. All respondent twins were sent follow-up questionnaires at ages of 17, 18, and in early adulthood, when twins were 22-27 years old.

Measures: The questionnaires included a survey of health habits and attitudes, a symptom checklist and questions about twins' relationships with parents, peers and co-twin. Measures used were twins' self-reports of their own dependence and their co-twin's dependence at age 16, reports of twins' leisure-time activities and social contacts, alcohol use, psychological distress and somatic symptoms both in adolescence and in early adulthood.

Results: In the present study 25.6% of twins reported dependence on their co-twin. There were gender and zygosity differences in dependence, females and MZ twins were more likely to report dependence than males and DZ twins. Co-twin dependence can be viewed on one hand as an individual characteristic, but on the other hand as a pattern of dyadic interaction that is mutually regulated and reciprocal. Most of the twins (80.7%) were either concordantly co-twin dependent or concordantly co-twin independent. The associations of co-twin dependence with twins' social interactions and psycho-emotional characteristics were relatively consistent both in adolescence and in early adulthood. Dependence was related to higher contact frequency and a higher proportion of shared leisure-time activities between twin siblings at the baseline and the follow-up. Additionally co-twin dependence was associated with elevated levels of psycho-emotional distress and somatic complaints, especially in adolescence. In the framework of gene-environment interaction, these results suggest that the genetic contribution to individual differences in drinking patterns is dependent on the nature of the pair-wise relationship of twin siblings.

Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that co-twin dependence is a genuine feature of the co-twin relationship and shows the importance of studying the impact of various features of co-twin relationships on individual twins' social and psycho-emotional life and well-being. Our study also offers evidence that differences in inter-personal relationships contribute to the effects of genetic propensities.

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Last updated 02.08.2006

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