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From the Child's Genes to Parental Environment and Back to the Child: Gene-environment Correlations in Early Social Development

Final Report Summary - FROMCHILDTOPARENT (From the Child's Genes to Parental Environment and Back to the Child: Gene-environment Correlations in Early Social Development)

The role of children's behavior and temperament is increasingly acknowledged in family research. Gene-environment Correlation (rGE) processes can provide alternative explanations to some of the observe findings linking child development and parenting. In evocative rGE processes, parents react to children’s behavior which is in part genetically influenced. In addition, passive rGE, in which parenting and children’s behavior are correlated through overlapping genetic influences on family members’ behavior may account in part for observed correlations in parenting-child behavior research. Two separate longitudinal studies, in two different longitudinal periods, investigated the role of children in affecting parenting and the role of rGE in this process. Multivariate longitudinal child and parent data were obtained in both studies. Both parenting and child behaviors were monitored consecutively through questionnaires and observations, to investigate the bidirectional influences of parents and children on one another. Additionally, both parents and children were genotyped for several genes, chosen based on their relevance to social behavior (e.g. dopaminergic and serotonergic genes).
Study 1 recruited 1430 parents during pregnancy and followed them and their children during infancy (9 and 18 months) and early childhood (33-36 months).Overall, 444 families have participated in at least one lab session. Prenatal data showed an association between expected parenting and expected child temperament, indicating that parent-child influences start before birth, in parents’ minds, which could affect the parenting process when the infant is born. Following infants longitudinally enables studying evocative rGE while controlling for parents' initial expected prenatal parenting.
Study 2 followed twins and their parents through middle childhood. At age 6, 409 pairs of dizygotic (DZ) twins participated with their parents in home or lab visits and with questionnaire data. At age 8 505 pairs of monozygotic (MZ) and DZ twins participated. One way to detect an evocative rGE is by comparing the environments received by MZ and DZ twins. We published a meta-analysis of 32 children-as-twins studies of parenting, in which 23% of the variance in parental behavior toward their children were explained by the genes of their children, indicating evocative rGE. Both positive and negative parenting showed an increase in evocative rGE with age, as would be expected by our developmental theory of evocative rGE. Project data show evidence for evocative rGE in some, but not all, aspects of parenting. Applied to children’s out-of-family social relations, such analyses provided further support for an evocative rGE process, in which children’s heritable temperament of negative emtionality and sociability predicted change in their peer problems.
In a review paper we delineated the methods required to detect passive and evocative rGEs. Evidence for passive rGE in parenting requires, among other things, that parents’ genes relate to their behavior. In our study, mothers’ parenting was associated with variations in a polymorphism of the AVPR1A gene, previously associated with children’s behavior, indicating that the association between parenting and children’s behavior may reflect a passive rGE. Our analyses show evidence for the involvement of several polymorphisms in both parent and child variables, in an evocative rGE process. For example, we demonstrated how boys’ (but not girls’) 5-HTTLPR genotype affected maternal behavior through boys’ self-control.
Data from the project will be integrated with data from future stages of the two longitudinal samples, enabling a long-term in-depth investigation of the complexity of gene-environment correlations as children and parents co-develop.