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What is the biological reality of gene–environment interaction estimates? An assessment of bias in developmental models

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Standard models used to test gene–environment interaction (G × E) hypotheses make the causal assumption that there are no unobserved variables that could be biasing the interaction estimate. Whether this assumption can be met in nonexperimental studies is unclear because the interactive biological pathways from genetic polymorphisms and environments to behavior, and the confounders that can be introduced along these pathways, are often not delineated. This is problematic in the context of studies focused on caregiver–child dyads, in which common genes and environments induce gene–environment correlation. To address the impact of sources of bias in G × E models specifically assessing the interaction between child genotype and caregiver behavior, we provide a causal framework that integrates biological and statistical concepts of G × E, and assess the magnitude of bias introduced by various confounding pathways in different causal circumstances.
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Keywords: Gene–environment interaction; child development; methodology; molecular genetics; neural development

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2016

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