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Gene—Environment Correlations in the Stress—Depression Relationship

Jason Schnittker
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Vol. 51, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER 2010), pp. 229-243
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20798289
Page Count: 15
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Gene—Environment Correlations in the Stress—Depression Relationship
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Abstract

A critical feature of the social stress model is the apparent relationship between stress and depression. Although many studies have demonstrated a connection between the two, the relationship may be contaminated by genes affecting both stress and depression. Using a sample of identical and fraternal twins, this study explores genetic influences on depression and assorted sources of stress while explicity estimating, and thereby controlling for, gene—environment correlations. I consider both stress and depression in a fine-grained fashion. For the former, the study explores assorted sources of stress, including health and disability, family, unemployment, discrimination, and perceived neighborhood safety, as gene—environment correlations may be stronger for some forms of stress than others. For the latter, the study explores both depressive symptoms and major depressive disorders, as each may entail a different epidemiological process, especially with respect to genes. The results reveal that most, but not all, measures of stress have moderate heritabilities, suggesting that genes influence exposure to the environment in a broad fashion. Yet, despite this, the relationship between stress and depression is generally robust to gene—environment correlations. There are some notable exceptions. For example, allowing for gene—environment correlations, marital conflict is generally unrelated to depression. Moreover, gene—environment correlations are generally stronger for major depression than for depressive symptoms, encouraging further elaboration of the distinction between the onset of depression and its recurrence, especially in the context of genes. These exceptions do not put limits on environmental influence, but do suggest that genes operate in a complex life-course fashion.

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