Adolescent Victimization and Early-Adult Psychopathology: Approaching Causal Inference Using a Longitudinal Twin Study to Rule Out Noncausal Explanations

Jonathan D. Schaefer, Terrie E. Moffitt, Louise Arseneault, Andrea Danese, Helen L. Fisher, Renate Houts, Margaret A. Sheridan, Jasmin Wertz, Avshalom Caspi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Adolescence is the peak age for both victimization and mental disorder onset. Previous research has reported associations between victimization exposure and many psychiatric conditions. However, causality remains controversial. Within the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, we tested whether seven types of adolescent victimization increased risk of multiple psychiatric conditions and approached causal inference by systematically ruling out noncausal explanations. Longitudinal within-individual analyses showed that victimization was followed by increased mental health problems over a childhood baseline of emotional/behavioral problems. Discordant-twin analyses showed that victimization increased risk of mental health problems independent of family background and genetic risk. Both childhood and adolescent victimization made unique contributions to risk. Victimization predicted heightened generalized liability (the “p factor”) to multiple psychiatric spectra, including internalizing, externalizing, and thought disorders. Results recommend violence reduction and identification and treatment of adolescent victims to reduce psychiatric burden.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-371
Number of pages20
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study was funded by U.K. Medical Research Council Grant G1002190. Additional support was provided by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) Grant HD077482 and the Jacobs Foundation. Data support was provided by the Duke Social Science Research Institute. H. L. Fisher was supported by an MQ: Transforming Mental Health Award MQ14F40. L. Arseneault is a Mental Health Leadership Fellow for the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council. J. D. Schaefer was supported by National Institute on Aging Grant T32-AG000139 and NICHD Grant T32-HD007376.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.


  • adolescence
  • developmental psychopathology
  • victimization


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