Use of the twin design to examine evocative gene-environment effects within a conversational context

Laura Segebart DeThorne, Sara Ann Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this study was to highlight the role of twin designs in understanding children’s conversational interactions. Specifically, we (a) attempted to replicate the findings of genetic effects on children’s conversational language use reported in DeThorne et al. (2008), and (b) examined whether the language used by examiners in their conversation with twins reflected differences in the children’s genetic similarity. Behavioral genetic analyses included intraclass correlations and model fitting procedures applied to 514 same-sex twins (202 MZ, 294 DZ, 10 unknown zygosity) from the Western Reserve Reading Project (Petrill, Deater-Deckard, Thompson, DeThorne, & Schatschneider, 2006). Analyses focused on child and examiner measures of talkativeness, average utterance length, vocabulary diversity, and grammatical complexity from a fifteen-minute conversational exchange. Substantial genetic effects on children’s conversational language measures replicated results from DeThorne et al. (2008) using an expanded sample. However, no familiality was reflected in the examiner language measures. Modest phenotypic correlations between child and examiner language measures suggested that differences in examiner language use may elicit differences in child language use, but evidence of evocative rGE in which genetic differences across children evoke differences in examiner language use, was not found. The discussion focuses on a comparison of findings to previous studies and implications for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-194
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Developmental Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Child language
  • Conversational interaction
  • Gene-environment correlation
  • Heritability
  • Twin design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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