Original Paper

Psychiatric Quarterly

, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 29-40

First online:

Gene-Environment Interaction and the Intergenerational Transmission of Parenting: Testing the Differential-Susceptibility Hypothesis

  • Kevin M. BeaverAffiliated withCollege of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida State University Email author 
  • , Jay BelskyAffiliated withHuman and Community Development, University of California

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The current study evaluated the differential-susceptibility hypothesis in explaining the intergenerational transmission of parenting, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Exposure to maternal parenting was measured prospectively when respondents were adolescents and parental stress was measured when they were parents themselves, some 14 years later, on average. Cumulative-genetic plasticity was measured by dominantly coding the presence of putative plasticity alleles from four genes: the 10R allele of DAT1, the A1 allele of DRD2, the 7R allele of DRD4, and the short allele of 5HTTLPR. Results showed that the more plasticity alleles individuals carried (range 0–4), the more that parenting experienced in adolescence predicted future parenting experience. Those respondents with the most plasticity alleles not only experienced the highest levels of parental stress when exposed to negative maternal parenting in adolescence but the lowest levels when exposed to positive maternal parenting in adolescence. These results indicate that differential susceptibility is operative in the case of the intergenerational transmission of parenting, which could explain why estimates of such transmission have proven so modest in studies which fail to consider GXE interactions.


Differential susceptibility Genetics Intergenerational Parenting