Avshalom Caspi
  • Avshalom Caspi

  • Edward M. Arnett Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences
  • Psychology and Neuroscience
  • 2020 W. Main Street, Suite 201, Durham, NC 27708
  • Phone: (919) 684-5835
  • Fax: 919-684-5912
  • Homepage
  • Specialties

    • Developmental Psychology
  • Education

      • Ph.D.,
      • Cornell University,
      • 1986
      • M.A.,
      • Cornell University,
      • 1983
      • B.A.,
      • University of California at Santa Cruz,
      • 1981
  • Awards, Honors and Distinctions

      • A.W. Mellon Visiting Fellow,
      • University of Capetown, South Africa,
      • 2012
      • Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize for Productive Youth Development,
      • Jacobs Foundation,
      • December, 2010
      • NARSAD Ruane Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Childhood Psychiatric Disorders,
      • NARSAD,
      • November, 2010
      • Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award,
      • International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development (ISSBD),
      • December, 2008
      • Rema Lapouse Award for Significant Contributions to the Scientific Understanding of Epidemiology and Control of Mental Disorders,
      • American Public Health Association,
      • December, 2008
      • Elected Fellow of the Association of Psychological Science,
      • August, 2007
      • 1st Mortimer D. Sackler MD Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology,
      • The faculties of the Sackler Institutes of Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center, College of Physicians and Surgeons and at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University,
      • 2007
      • Elected Fellow of the British Academy,
      • 2006
      • Fellow,
      • British Academy,
      • 0 2006
      • ISI Highly Cited Research (field: Psychology/Psychiatry),
      • 2006
      • Wolfson Research Merit Award,
      • Royal Society,
      • 2006
      • Elected Fellow of the American Psychopathological Association,
      • 2005
      • Maccoby Book Award in Developmental Psychology,
      • American Psychological Association,
      • 2003
      • Elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (UK),
      • 2002
      • Fellows,
      • Academy of Medical Sciences,
      • 0 2002
      • John P. Hill Memorial Award, (with T.E. Moffitt),
      • Society for Research in Adolescence,
      • 2002
      • Distinguished Scientific Awards for Early Career Contributions to Psychology (Developmental),
      • American Psychological Association,
      • 0 1995
      • Robert L. Fantz Award,
      • American Psychological Foundation,
      • 1995
      • Selected as Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences,
      • Palo Alto Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology (Developmental Psychology), American Psychological Association,
      • 1995
      • University of Wisconsin Vilas Foundation Associate,
      • 1995-1996
      • Margaret Bernauer Research Award,
      • Wisconsin Psychological Association,
      • 1994
      • H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellow,
      • University of Wisconsin,
      • 1993-1998
      • Spencer Fellowship,
      • National Academy of Education,
      • 1990-1992
      • Graduate Fellowship,
      • Cornell University, College of Human Ecology,
      • 1984
      • Pre-Doctoral Fellowship,
      • Foundation for Child Development,
      • 1983
      • Highest Honors in Major,
      • UC-Santa Cruz,
      • 1981
  • Selected Publications

      • L Arseneault, M Cannon, HL Fisher, G Polanczyk, TE Moffitt and A Caspi.
      • 2011.
      • Childhood trauma and children's emerging psychotic symptoms: A genetically sensitive longitudinal cohort study..
      • Am J Psychiatry
      • 168:
      • 65-72
      • .
      Publication Description

      OBJECTIVE: Using longitudinal and prospective measures of trauma during childhood, the authors assessed the risk of developing psychotic symptoms associated with maltreatment, bullying, and accidents in a nationally representative U.K. cohort of young twins. METHOD: Data were from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which follows 2,232 twin children and their families. Mothers were interviewed during home visits when children were ages 5, 7, 10, and 12 on whether the children had experienced maltreatment by an adult, bullying by peers, or involvement in an accident. At age 12, children were asked about bullying experiences and psychotic symptoms. Children's reports of psychotic symptoms were verified by clinicians. RESULTS: Children who experienced mal-treatment by an adult (relative risk=3.16, 95% CI=1.92-5.19) or bullying by peers (relative risk=2.47, 95% CI=1.74-3.52) were more likely to report psychotic symptoms at age 12 than were children who did not experience such traumatic events. The higher risk for psychotic symptoms was observed whether these events occurred early in life or later in childhood. The risk associated with childhood trauma remained significant in analyses controlling for children's gender, socioeconomic deprivation, and IQ; for children's early symptoms of internalizing or externalizing problems; and for children's genetic liability to developing psychosis. In contrast, the risk associated with accidents was small (relative risk=1.47, 95% CI=1.02-2.13) and inconsistent across ages. CONCLUSIONS: Trauma characterized by intention to harm is associated with children's reports of psychotic symptoms. Clinicians working with children who report early symptoms of psychosis should inquire about traumatic events such as maltreatment and bullying.

      • DW Belsky, A Caspi, L Arseneault, W Bleidorn, P Fonagy, M Goodman, R Houts and TE Moffitt.
      • 2012.
      • Etiological features of borderline personality related characteristics in a birth cohort of 12-year-old children..
      • Dev Psychopathol
      • 24:
      • 251-265
      • .
      Publication Description

      It has been reported that borderline personality related characteristics can be observed in children, and that these characteristics are associated with increased risk for the development of borderline personality disorder. It is not clear whether borderline personality related characteristics in children share etiological features with adult borderline personality disorder. We investigated the etiology of borderline personality related characteristics in a longitudinal cohort study of 1,116 pairs of same-sex twins followed from birth through age 12 years. Borderline personality related characteristics measured at age 12 years were highly heritable, were more common in children who had exhibited poor cognitive function, impulsivity, and more behavioral and emotional problems at age 5 years, and co-occurred with symptoms of conduct disorder, depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Exposure to harsh treatment in the family environment through age 10 years predicted borderline personality related characteristics at age 12 years. This association showed evidence of environmental mediation and was stronger among children with a family history of psychiatric illness, consistent with diathesis-stress models of borderline etiology. Results indicate that borderline personality related characteristics in children share etiological features with borderline personality disorder in adults and suggest that inherited and environmental risk factors make independent and interactive contributions to borderline etiology.

      • L Bowes, B Maughan, H Ball, S Shakoor, I Ouellet Morin, A Caspi, TE Moffitt and L Arseneault.
      • 2011.
      • Chronic bullying victimization across school transition: The role of genetic and environmental influences.
      • Development and Psychopathology
      • .
      • A Danese, A Caspi, B Williams, A Ambler, K Sugden, J Mika, H Werts, J Freeman, CM Pariante, TE Moffitt and L Arseneault.
      • 2011.
      • Biological embedding of stress through inflammation processes in childhood..
      • Mol Psychiatry
      • 16:
      • 244-246
      • .
      • JR Grisham, MA Fullana, D Mataix-Cols, TE Moffitt, A Caspi and R Poulton.
      • 2011.
      • Risk factors prospectively associated with adult obsessive-compulsive symptom dimensions and obsessive-compulsive disorder..
      • Psychol Med
      • 41:
      • 2495-2506
      • .
      Publication Description

      BACKGROUND: Very few longitudinal studies have evaluated prospective neurodevelopmental and psychosocial risk factors for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Furthermore, despite the heterogeneous nature of OCD, no research has examined risk factors for its primary symptom dimensions, such as contamination/washing. METHOD: Potential risk factors for symptoms or diagnosis of OCD in adulthood and for specific adult obsessive-compulsive (OC) symptom dimensions were examined in the Dunedin Study birth cohort. The presence of obsessions and compulsions and psychological disorders was assessed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule (DIS) at ages 26 and 32 years. Individuals with a diagnosis of OCD at either age (n=36) were compared to both a healthy control group (n=613) and an anxious control group (n=310) to determine whether associations between a risk factor and an OCD diagnosis were specific. RESULTS: Childhood neurodevelopmental, behavioral, personality and environmental risk factors were associated with a diagnosis of OCD and with OC symptoms at ages 26 and 32. Social isolation, retrospectively reported physical abuse and negative emotionality were specific predictors of an adult OCD diagnosis. Of note, most risk factors were associated with OC symptoms in adulthood and several risk factors predicted specific OCD dimensions. Perinatal insults were linked to increased risk for symmetry/ordering and shameful thoughts dimensions, whereas poor childhood motor skills predicted the harm/checking dimension. Difficult temperament, internalizing symptoms and conduct problems in childhood also predicted specific symptom dimensions and lower IQ non-specifically predicted increased risk for most dimensions. CONCLUSIONS: The current findings underscore the need for a dimensional approach in evaluating childhood risk factors for obsessions and compulsions.

      • TE Moffitt, L Arseneault, D Belsky, N Dickson, RJ Hancox, H Harrington, R Houts, R Poulton, BW Roberts, S Ross, MR Sears, WM Thomson and A Caspi.
      • 2011.
      • A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety..
      • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
      • 108:
      • 2693-2698
      • .
      Publication Description

      Policy-makers are considering large-scale programs aimed at self-control to improve citizens' health and wealth and reduce crime. Experimental and economic studies suggest such programs could reap benefits. Yet, is self-control important for the health, wealth, and public safety of the population? Following a cohort of 1,000 children from birth to the age of 32 y, we show that childhood self-control predicts physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes, following a gradient of self-control. Effects of children's self-control could be disentangled from their intelligence and social class as well as from mistakes they made as adolescents. In another cohort of 500 sibling-pairs, the sibling with lower self-control had poorer outcomes, despite shared family background. Interventions addressing self-control might reduce a panoply of societal costs, save taxpayers money, and promote prosperity.

      • I Ouellet-Morin, A Danese, L Bowes, S Shakoor, A Ambler, CM Pariante, AS Papadopoulos, A Caspi, TE Moffitt and L Arseneault.
      • 2011.
      • A discordant monozygotic twin design shows blunted cortisol reactivity among bullied children..
      • J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry
      • 50:
      • 574-582.e3
      • .
      Publication Description

      OBJECTIVE: Childhood adverse experiences are known to engender persistent changes in stress-related systems and brain structures involved in mood, cognition, and behavior in animal models. Uncertainty remains about the causal effect of early stressful experiences on physiological response to stress in human beings, as the impact of these experiences has rarely been investigated while controlling for both genetic and shared environmental influences. METHOD: We tested whether bullying victimization, a repeated adverse experience in childhood, influences cortisol responses to a psychosocial stress test (PST) using a discordant monozygotic (MZ) twin design. Thirty pairs (43.3% males) of 12-year-old MZ twins discordant for bullying victimization were identified in the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally representative 1994-1995 cohort of families with twins. RESULTS: Bullied and nonbullied MZ twins showed distinct patterns of cortisol secretion after the PST. Specifically, bullied twins exhibited a blunted cortisol response compared with their nonbullied MZ co-twins, who showed the expected increase. This difference in cortisol response to stress could not be attributed to children's genetic makeup, their familial environments, pre-existing and concomitant individual factors, or the perception of stress and emotional response to the PST. CONCLUSION: Results from this natural experiment provide support for a causal effect of adverse childhood experiences on the neuroendocrine response to stress.

      • I Ouellet-Morin, CL Odgers, A Danese, L Bowes, S Shakoor, AS Papadopoulos, A Caspi, TE Moffitt and L Arseneault.
      • 2011.
      • Blunted cortisol responses to stress signal social and behavioral problems among maltreated/bullied 12-year-old children..
      • Biol Psychiatry
      • 70:
      • 1016-1023
      • .
      Publication Description

      BACKGROUND: Evidence from animal and human studies suggests that early-life stress such as physical maltreatment has long-lasting effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and is associated with blunted HPA axis reactivity in adulthood. Few studies have investigated whether blunted HPA axis reactivity observed in children exposed to early-life stress signals social, emotional, and behavioral problems. METHODS: Participants were 190 12-year-old children (50.5% males) recruited from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally representative 1994 to 1995 cohort of families with twins. Cortisol responses to psychosocial stress were measured in maltreated/bullied (n = 64) and comparison children (n = 126). We ascertained maltreatment and bullying victimization using mothers' reports and assessed children's social, emotional, and behavioral problems at ages 5 and 12 using mothers' and teachers' reports. RESULTS: Piecewise multilevel growth curve analyses indicated that maltreated/bullied and comparison children showed distinct cortisol responses to stress. Specifically, maltreated/bullied children had lower cortisol responses than comparison children who exhibited a significant increase. Lower cortisol responses were, in turn, associated with more social and behavioral problems among maltreated/bullied children. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide support for the influence of childhood harm on blunted HPA axis reactivity and its potential impact on children's functioning. Our findings emphasize the need to integrate stress biomarkers in guiding prevention efforts for young victims.

      • S Shakoor, SR Jaffee, P Andreou, L Bowes, AP Ambler, A Caspi, TE Moffitt and L Arseneault.
      • 2011.
      • Mothers and children as informants of bullying victimization: results from an epidemiological cohort of children..
      • J Abnorm Child Psychol
      • 39:
      • 379-387
      • .
      Publication Description

      Stressful events early in life can affect children's mental health problems. Collecting valid and reliable information about children's bad experiences is important for research and clinical purposes. This study aimed to (1) investigate whether mothers and children provide valid reports of bullying victimization, (2) examine the inter-rater reliability between the two informants, (3) test the predictive validity of their reports with children's emotional and behavioral problems and (4) compare the genetic and environmental etiology of bullying victimization as reported by mothers and children. We assessed bullying victimization in the Environmental-Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally-representative sample of 1,116 families with twins. We collected reports from mothers and children during private interviews, including detailed narratives. Findings showed that we can rely on mothers and children as informants of bullying victimization: both informants provided information which adhered to the definition of bullying as involving repeated hurtful actions between peers in the presence of a power imbalance. Although mothers and children modestly agreed with each other about who was bullied during primary and secondary school, reports of bullying victimization from both informants were similarly associated with children's emotional and behavioral problems and provided similar estimates of genetic and environmental influences. Findings from this study suggest that collecting information from multiple informants is ideal to capture all instances of bullying victimization. However, in the absence of child self-reports, mothers can be considered as a viable alternative, and vice versa.

      • DM Shearer, WM Thomson, A Caspi, TE Moffitt, JM Broadbent and R Poulton.
      • 2011.
      • Inter-generational continuity in periodontal health: findings from the Dunedin family history study..
      • J Clin Periodontol
      • 38:
      • 301-309
      • .
      Publication Description

      OBJECTIVE: To determine whether parental periodontal disease history is a risk factor for periodontal disease in adult offspring. METHODS: Proband periodontal examination [combined attachment loss (CAL) at age 32, and incidence of CAL from ages 26 to 32] and interview data were collected during the age-32 assessments in the Dunedin Study. Parental data were also collected. The sample was divided into two familial-risk groups for periodontal disease (high- and low-risk) based on parents' self-reported periodontal disease. RESULTS: Periodontal risk analysis involved 625 proband-parent(s) groups. After controlling for confounding factors, the high-familial-risk periodontal group was more likely to have 1+ sites with 4+mm CAL [relative risk (RR) 1.45; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.11-1.88], 2+ sites with 4+mm CAL (RR 1.45; 95% CI 1.03-2.05), 1+ sites with 5+mm CAL (RR 1.60; 95% CI 1.02-2.50), and 1+ sites with 3+mm incident CAL (RR 1.64; 95% CI 1.01-2.66) than the low-familial-risk group. Predictive validity was enhanced when information was available from both parents. CONCLUSIONS: Parents with poor periodontal health tend to have offspring with poor periodontal health. Family/parental history of oral health is a valid representation of the shared genetic and environmental factors that contribute to an individual's periodontal status, and may help to predict patient prognosis and preventive treatment need.

      • WM Thomson, A Caspi, R Poulton, TE Moffitt and JM Broadbent.
      • 2011.
      • Personality and oral health..
      • Eur J Oral Sci
      • 119:
      • 366-372
      • .
      Publication Description

      We investigated age-26 personality characteristics and age-32 oral health in a prospective study of a complete birth cohort born in Dunedin, New Zealand. Personality was measured using the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ). Oral health was measured using the short-form Oral Health Impact Profile (OHIP-14), a global measure, and dental examinations. Personality profiles were constructed for 916 individuals (50.8% men) using standardized MPQ scores, and multivariate analyses examined their association with oral health. Those reporting 1+ OHIP-14 impacts had higher Negative Emotionality scores (and lower Constraint and Positive Emotionality MPQ superfactor scores) than those who did not. After controlling for gender, clinical status, and the other two MPQ superfactors, those scoring higher on Negative Emotionality had a greater risk of reporting 1+ OHIP-14 impacts, as well as 3+ OHIP-14 impacts and worse-than-average oral health. They also had a greater risk of having lost at least one tooth from caries and of having 3+ decayed surfaces. Personality characteristics appear to shape self-reports of oral health. Personality is also a risk factor for clinical disease status, at least with respect to dental caries and its sequelae. Because the attitudes and values tapped into by personality tests can be altered by brief cognitive interventions, those might be useful in preventive dentistry.

      • R Uher, A Caspi, R Houts, K Sugden, B Williams, R Poulton and TE Moffitt.
      • 2011.
      • Serotonin transporter gene moderates childhood maltreatment's effects on persistent but not single-episode depression: replications and implications for resolving inconsistent results..
      • J Affect Disord
      • 135:
      • 56-65
      • .
      Publication Description

      BACKGROUND: Genetic and environmental factors shape life-long vulnerability to depression, but most gene-environment interaction (G×E) research has focused on cross-sectional assessments rather than life-course phenotypes. This study tests the hypothesis that the G×E involving the length polymorphism in the serotonin-transporter-gene-linked-promoter-region (5-HTTLPR) and childhood maltreatment is specific to depression that runs a persistent course in adulthood. METHODS: The hypothesis is tested in two cohorts. Men and women in the Dunedin Study (N=847), New Zealand, followed to age 32 years with 96% retention and women in the E-Risk Study (N=930), England, followed to age 40 years with 96% retention. Diagnoses of past-year major depressive episode were established at four separate assessments. Depression diagnosed on two or more occasions was considered persistent. RESULTS: In both cohorts, statistical tests of gene-environment interactions showed positive results for persistent depression but not single-episode depression. Individuals with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles and childhood maltreatment had elevated risk of persistent but not single-episode depression. LIMITATIONS: Some cases of recurrent depression may have been misclassified as single-episode due to non-contiguous assessment windows, but this would have a conservative effect on the findings. Chronic and recurrent depression could not be reliably distinguished due to non-contiguous periods of assessment. Therefore, the term persistent depression is used to describe either chronic or recurrent course. CONCLUSIONS: The specific effect on persistent depression increases the significance of this G×E for public health. Research that does not distinguish persistent course may underestimate G×E effects and account for some replication failures in G×E research.

      • CC Wong, A Caspi, B Williams, R Houts, IW Craig and J Mill.
      • 2011.
      • A longitudinal twin study of skewed X chromosome-inactivation..
      • PLoS One
      • 6:
      • e17873
      • .
      Publication Description

      X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) is a pivotal epigenetic mechanism involved in the dosage compensation of X-linked genes between males and females. In any given cell, the process of XCI in early female development is thought to be random across alleles and clonally maintained once established. Recent studies, however, suggest that XCI might not always be random and that skewed inactivation may become more prevalent with age. The factors influencing such XCI skewing and its changes over time are largely unknown. To elucidate the influence of stochastic, heritable and environmental factors in longitudinal changes in XCI, we examined X inactivation profiles in a sample of monozygotic (MZ) (n = 23) and dizygotic (DZ) (n = 22) female twin-pairs at ages 5 and 10 years. Compared to MZ twins who were highly concordant for allelic XCI ratios, DZ twins showed much lower levels of concordance. Whilst XCI patterns were moderately stable between ages 5 and 10 years, there was some drift over time with an increased prevalence of more extreme XCI skewing at age 10. To our knowledge, this study represents the earliest longitudinal assessment of skewed XCI patterns, and suggests that skewed XCI may already be established in early childhood. Our data also suggest a link between MZ twinning and the establishment of allelic XCI ratios, and demonstrate that acquired skewing in XCI after establishment is primarily mediated by stochastic mechanisms. These data have implications for our understanding about sex differences in complex disease, and the potential causes of phenotypic discordance between MZ female twins.

      • P Zimmermann, T Brückl, A Nocon, H Pfister, EB Binder, M Uhr, R Lieb, TE Moffitt, A Caspi, F Holsboer and M Ising.
      • 2011.
      • Interaction of FKBP5 gene variants and adverse life events in predicting depression onset: results from a 10-year prospective community study..
      • Am J Psychiatry
      • 168:
      • 1107-1116
      • .
      Publication Description

      OBJECTIVE: The binding protein FKBP5 is an important modulator of the function of the glucocorticoid receptor, the main receptor of the stress hormone system. This turns the FKBP5 gene into a key candidate for gene-environment interactions, which are considered critical for pathogenesis of stress-related disorders. The authors explored gene-environment interactions between FKBP5 gene variants and adverse life events in predicting the first occurrence of a major depressive episode. METHOD: The analyses were based on 884 Caucasians in a 10-year prospective community study. At baseline, they were 14-24 years old and did not fulfill criteria for a major depressive episode. The DSM-IV-based Munich Composite International Diagnostic Interview was used to assess adverse life events preceding baseline and major depressive episodes during follow-up. On the basis of previous findings, five single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the FKBP5 gene were selected for genotyping. RESULTS: While the authors did not observe genetic main effects, they found interactions between the five SNPs and traumatic (but not separation) events, with the strongest effect for severe trauma. The effect of trauma on incident major depressive episodes was evident among subjects homozygous for the minor alleles but not subjects with other genotypes. The findings were replicated in the U.K. Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study. CONCLUSIONS: These hypothesis-driven results suggest that an interaction between FKBP5 genotype and trauma is involved in the onset of depression. Subjects homozygous for the minor alleles of the investigated FKBP5 SNPs seem to be particularly sensitive to effects of trauma exposure in terms of triggering depression onset.

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  • Postdoctoral Students

    • Daniel Belsky
      • 2012 - present
    • Salomon Israel
      • 2012 - present
    • Sidra Goldman-Mellor
      • 2012 - present
    • Idan Shalev
      • 2011 - present
    • Madeline Hogan Meier
      • 2010 - present
    • Guilherme Polanczyk
      • 2009
      • Institute of Psychiatry, University of Sao Paolo
  • Teaching

    • PSY 321S.01
      • PERSONALITY/INDIV DIFF
      • Soc/Psych 319
      • Tu 04:40 PM-07:10 PM