Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 723–734 | Cite as

Influences of Biological and Adoptive Mothers’ Depression and Antisocial Behavior on Adoptees’ Early Behavior Trajectories

  • David C. R. Kerr
  • Leslie D. Leve
  • Gordon T. Harold
  • Misaki N. Natsuaki
  • Jenae M. Neiderhiser
  • Daniel S. Shaw
  • David Reiss


Research clearly demonstrates that parents pass risk for depression and antisocial behavior on to their children. However, most research confounds genetic and environmental mechanisms by studying genetically related individuals. Furthermore, most studies focus on either depression or antisocial behavior in parents or children, despite evidence of co-occurrence and shared etiology, and few consider the early origins of these problems in childhood. We estimated the influence of biological and adoptive mothers’ depression and antisocial behavior on growth in child externalizing and internalizing behaviors across early childhood using data from a prospective adoption study. Participants were 346 matched triads of physically healthy children (196 boys; 150 girls), biological mothers (BM), and adoptive mothers (AM). Latent growth curve models were estimated using AM reports of child internalizing and externalizing behaviors at ages 18, 27, and 54 months. Predictors of intercept (18 months) but not slope were identified. BM lifetime histories of major depressive disorder predicted child externalizing behaviors and BM antisocial behavior predicted child internalizing behavior. AM depressive symptoms and antisocial behavior were associated with both child outcomes. AM paths, but not BM paths were partially replicated using adopted fathers’ reports of child outcomes. BM obstetric complications, prenatal depressive symptoms, and postnatal adoptive family contact with BM did not account for BM paths. This adoption study distinguished risks conferred by biological mothers’ depression and antisocial behavior to children’s behaviors from those associated with adoptive mothers’ related symptoms. Future studies should examine gene-environment interplay to explain the emergence of serious problem trajectories in later childhood.


Depression Externalizing Internalizing Early childhood Genetic risk Adoption 



This study was supported by grant R01 HD042608 from NICHD, NIDA, and OBSSR, NIH, U.S. PHS (PIs: Reiss and Leve), by grant R01 DA020585 from NIDA, NIMH, and OBSSR, NIH, U.S. PHS (PI: Neiderhiser), by grant R01 MH092118 from NIMH, NIH, U.S. PHS (PIs: Neiderhiser and Leve). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health. We are very grateful to the adoption agencies and families who participated in the study. We thank Xiaojia Ge, John Reid, Rand Conger, Laura Scaramella, and Jody Ganiban for their scientific contributions to the larger study and Michelle Baumann for her editorial assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • David C. R. Kerr
    • 1
    • 2
  • Leslie D. Leve
    • 2
  • Gordon T. Harold
    • 3
  • Misaki N. Natsuaki
    • 4
  • Jenae M. Neiderhiser
    • 5
  • Daniel S. Shaw
    • 6
  • David Reiss
    • 7
  1. 1.School of Psychological Science, Oregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Oregon Social Learning CenterEugeneUSA
  3. 3.University of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  4. 4.University of California, RiversideRiversideUSA
  5. 5.The Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  6. 6.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  7. 7.Yale Child Study Center, Yale School of MedicineNew HavenUSA

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