Genetic and environmental origins of the effects of peers on individual differences in wellbeing in adolescence and young adulthood

PhD project (3/4 yr research project leading to independent research at the doctorate level)

Dr Claire Haworth, Oliver Davis

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Adolescents and young adults spend much of their time with their peer group, and peers can have both positive and negative impacts on mental health and wellbeing. Some research has investigated the impact of peers on symptoms of mental illness, but less focus has been given to the impact of peers on more positive aspects of our mental health and wellbeing.
Work in behavioural genetics suggests that we should consider how our genetic backgrounds lead us to select our friendship groups (known as gene-environment correlation), so it is important to investigate the impact of peers within a genetically informative framework.

Aims & objectives

To explore the positive and negative impacts peers can have on mental health and wellbeing outcomes in adolescents and young adults. The project will have a particular focus on positive aspects of mental health (e.g. life satisfaction). The project will involve estimating the importance of genetic and environmental links between peer effects and wellbeing using genetically informative samples.


The project will use data on wellbeing collected on two well-characterised samples: the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The student will be part of the Dynamic Genetics lab:

Measures: In both samples we have collected a wide-range of positive mental wellbeing measures, including happiness, life satisfaction, meaning in life, gratitude and basic psychological needs. These have been collected at age 16 in TEDS, and at age 24 in ALSPAC. Both samples have data on positive and negative interactions with peers (e.g. peer victimization, peer social support, quality of peer attachment, online social networks, cyber bullying).

Analyses: A variety of techniques will be used to explore the genetic and environmental origins of peer influences on wellbeing, including the twin design, DNA association studies and polygenic risk scores, and Mendelian randomization to assess causality.


Balluerka, et al., (2016). Journal of Adolescence, 53, 1–9.
Haworth et al., (2016) Developmental Science, pp 1-9, DOI: 10.1111/desc.12376:

Created on Nov. 7, 2016, 9:44 a.m.

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