A twin-singleton comparison of developmental trajectories of externalizing and internalizing problems in 6- to 12-year-old children
Research on twin-singleton differences in externalizing and internalizing problems in childhood is largely cross-sectional and yields contrasting results. The goal of this study was to compare developmental trajectories of externalizing and internalizing problems in 6- to 12-year-old twins and singletons. Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) maternal reports of externalizing and internalizing problems were obtained for a sample of 9651 twins from the Netherlands Twin Register and for a representative general population sample of 1351 singletons. Latent growth modeling was applied to estimate growth curves for twins and singletons. Twin-singleton differences in the intercepts and slopes of the growth curves were examined. The developmental trajectories of externalizing problems showed a linear decrease over time, and were not significantly different for twins and singletons. Internalizing problems seem to develop similarly for twins and singletons up to age 9. After this age twins' internalizing symptoms start to decrease in comparison to those of singletons, resulting in less internalizing problems than singletons by the age of 12 years. Our findings confirm the generalizability of twin studies to singleton populations with regard to externalizing problems in middle and late childhood. The generalizability of studies on internalizing problems in early adolescence in twin samples should be addressed with care. Twinship may be a protective factor in the development of internalizing problems during early adolescence.