Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Associations between Infant Fussy Temperament and Antisocial Behavior in Childhood and Adolescence

Abstract

Previous research suggests that fussy temperament in infancy predicts risk for later antisocial behavior (ASB) in childhood and adolescence. It remains unclear, however, to what extent infant fussiness is related to later ASB through causal processes or if they both reflect the same family risk factors for ASB. The current study used two approaches, the comparison of siblings and bivariate biometric modeling, to reduce familial confounding and examine genetic and environmental influences on associations between fussiness in the first 2 years of life and ASB in childhood and late adolescence. Analyses were conducted on data from a prospective cohort (9237 at 4–9 years and 7034 at 14–17 years) who are the offspring of a nationally representative sample of US women. In the full sample, fussiness predicted both child and adolescent ASB to small but significant extents, controlling for a wide range of measured child and family-level covariates. When siblings who differed in their fussiness were compared, fussiness predicted ASB in childhood, but not ASB during adolescence. Furthermore, results from a bivariate Cholesky model suggested that even the association of fussiness with childhood ASB found when comparing siblings is attributable to familial factors. That is, although families with infants who are higher in fussiness also tend to have children and adolescents who engage in greater ASB, the hypothesis that infant fussiness has an environmentally mediated impact on the development of future ASB was not strongly supported.

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Acknowledgments

The work was supported by a Grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD061384).

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Correspondence to Jackson A. Goodnight.

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Conflict of Interest

Jackson A. Goodnight, Kelly L. Donahue, Irwin D. Waldman, Carol A. Van Hulle, Paul J. Rathouz, Benjamin B. Lahey and Brian M. D’Onofrio declare no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from participants of the NLSY and CNLSY at the time of data collection. The current study was reviewed and approved by institutional review boards at the University of Dayton, Indiana University, and the University of Chicago.

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Edited by Kristen Jacobson

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Goodnight, J.A., Donahue, K.L., Waldman, I.D. et al. Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Associations between Infant Fussy Temperament and Antisocial Behavior in Childhood and Adolescence. Behav Genet 46, 680–692 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10519-016-9794-2

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Keywords

  • Conduct problems
  • Temperament
  • Delinquency
  • Sibling comparison
  • Quasiexperimental
  • Irritability
  • Fussiness