Interpreting estimates of heritability – A note on the twin decomposition
While most outcomes may in part be genetically mediated, quantifying genetic heritability is a different matter. To explore data on twins and decompose the variation is a classical method to determine whether variation in outcomes, e.g. IQ or schooling, originate from genetic endowments or environmental factors. Despite some criticism, the model is still widely used. The critique is generally related to how estimates of heritability may encompass environmental mediation. This aspect is sometimes left implicit by authors even though its relevance for the interpretation is potentially profound. This short note is an appeal for clarity from authors when interpreting the magnitude of heritability estimates. It is demonstrated how disregarding existing theoretical contributions can easily lead to unnecessary misinterpretations and/or controversies. The key arguments are relevant also for estimates based on data of adopted children or from modern molecular genetics research.
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