Stability and Change in Genetic and Environmental Influences on Well-Being in Response to an Intervention

Claire M A Haworth, S. Katherine Nelson, Kristin Layous, Kathryn Carter, Katherine Jacobs Bao, Sonja Lyubomirsky, R Plomin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
303 Downloads (Pure)


Genetic and environmental influences on complex traits can change in response to developmental and environmental contexts. Here we explore the impact of a positive activity intervention on the genetic and environmental influences on well-being and mental health in a sample of 750 adolescent twins. Twins completed a 10-week online well-being intervention, consisting of kindness and gratitude tasks and matched control activities. The results showed significant improvements both in well-being and in internalizing symptoms in response to the intervention activities. We used multivariate twin analyses of repeated measures, tracking stability and change in genetic and environmental influences, to assess the impact of this environmental intervention on these variance components. The heritability of well-being remained high both before and after the intervention, and the same genetic effects were important at each stage, even as well-being increased. The overall magnitude of environmental influences was also stable across the intervention; however, different non-shared environmental influences emerged during the intervention. Our study highlights the value of exploring the innovations in non-shared environmental influences that could provide clues to the mechanisms behind improvements in well-being. The findings also emphasize that even traits strongly influenced by genetics, like well-being, are subject to change in response to environmental interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0155538
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2016


  • well-being
  • genetics
  • intervention
  • gene-environment interaction


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