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The p factor: Genetic analyses support a general dimension of psychopathology in childhood and adolescence

By A.G. Allegrini, Rosa Cheesman, Kaili Rimfeld, S. Selzam, JB. Pingault, Thalia Catherine Eley, Robert Plomin

Posted 28 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/591354

Background: Diverse behaviour problems in childhood correlate phenotypically, suggesting a general dimension of psychopathology that has been called the p factor. The shared genetic architecture between childhood psychopathology traits also supports a genetic p. This study systematically investigates the manifestation of this common dimension across self-, parent- and teacher-rated measures in childhood and adolescence. Methods: The sample included 7,026 twin pairs from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). First, we employed multivariate twin models to estimate common genetic and environmental influences on p based on diverse measures of behaviour problems rated by children, parents and teachers at ages 7, 9, 12 and 16 (depressive symptoms, emotional problems, peer problems, autistic symptoms, hyperactivity, antisocial, conduct and psychopathic symptoms). Second, to assess the stability of genetic and environmental influences on p across time, we conducted longitudinal twin modelling of the first phenotypic principal components of childhood psychopathological measures across each of the four ages. Third, we created a genetic p factor in 7,026 unrelated genotyped individuals based on eight polygenic scores for adult psychiatric disorders to estimate how a general polygenic predisposition to adult psychiatric disorders relates to childhood p. Results: Behaviour problems were consistently correlated phenotypically and genetically across ages and raters. The p factor is substantially heritable (50-60%), and manifests consistently across diverse ages and raters. Genetic correlations of p components across childhood and adolescence suggest stability over time (49-78%). A polygenic general psychopathology factor, derived from studies of adult psychiatric disorders consistently predicted a general phenotypic p factor across development. Conclusions: Diverse forms of psychopathology consistently load on a common p factor, which is highly heritable. There are substantial genetic influences on the stability of p across childhood. Our analyses indicate genetic overlap between general risk for psychiatric disorders in adulthood and p in childhood, even as young as age 7. The p factor has far-reaching implications for genomic research and, eventually, for diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems.

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