It’s been well established that genes play a major role in predicting gambling disorders but there have been few studies examining the role of genetics in young adults. Recent research performed by a group of Minnesota researchers assessed the role of genetic and environmental factors in the behavior of gamblers between the ages of 17 and 24.

The study used data from the Minnesota Twin Family Study, a longitudinal study of 1400 twins (identical and fraternal) conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota. Studies of identical twins provide the best opportunity to separate genetic and environmental factors.

The findings suggest that the role of non-shared environmental influences (i.e., environmental influences that affect one twin but not the other such as college peers; these are distinguished from shared environmental influences such as parenting) takes on significantly greater importance at age 24 than at age 17. Genetic factors were significant and influential at both ages 17 and 24. Non-shared environmental influences were relevant at both ages and different non-shared environments seem to be relevant at ages 17 and 24.

“Our study suggests that different types of environmental influences affect the gambling behavior of young adults at different stages of their development,” says Serena King, PhD., Associate Professor of Psychology at Hamline University and lead investigator for the study. Specifically, the relative influence of shared environmental factors (such as parenting) decreased substantially as study participants moved into their twenties. The study also found essentially no differences in the role of genetics in predicting gambling behavior between men and women.

From a public health perspective, the study suggests that efforts for prevention and intervention should focus on non-shared environmental factors including peer relationships.

In addition to Dr. King, collaborating researchers included Margaret Keyes, Ph.D., Ken Winters, Ph.D., Matthew McGue, Ph.D. and William Iacono, Ph.D. The research was supported by a research grant from the National Center for Responsible Gaming.