, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 190-211

Parent-offspring conflict and cost-benefit analysis in adolescent suicidal behavior

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Data on birth order and parent-offspring relations for 1,601 adolescents participating in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were used to test hypotheses about the role of adolescent suicidal behavior in parent-offspring conflict. Among adolescents highly dissatisfied with their mothers, the odds that middleborns would make at least one suicide attempt was 23% that of first- and lastborns (p<.001), but their odds of receiving medical treatment for their attempts was 8.5 times greater than the odds for first- and lastborns (p=.032). The results are tentatively interpreted as supporting the hypothesis that adolescents use suicide attempts to leverage investment from their parents.

Geoffrey Miller graciously provided funding and material support so that I could carry out this research as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Mexico. I am currently supported by a National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health, P32 MH-20030 (PI: Michael C. Neale). Virginia Rutter, Andy Thomson, Geoffrey Miller, Steve Gangestad, Frank Sulloway, Emory Morrison, Chuck Gardner, and Bill Grady kindly provided comments and/or statistical advice. Special thanks are also due to Ed Hagen and two anonymous reviewers for reading and commenting on the manuscript in detail.
Paul Andrews, JD, PhD, is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in Richmond. His research involves the possible evolved cognitive and behavioral functions of depression and suicidal behavior and the epistemology of adaptationism.