Behavior Genetics

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 175–186 | Cite as

Did I Inherit My Moral Compass? Examining Socialization and Evocative Mechanisms for Virtuous Character Development

  • Amanda M. RamosEmail author
  • Amanda M. Griffin
  • Jenae M. NeiderhiserEmail author
  • David Reiss
Original Research


Virtuous character development in children is correlated with parenting behavior, but the role of genetic influences in this association has not been examined. Using a longitudinal twin/sibling study (N = 720; Time 1 (T1) Mage = 12–14 years, Time 3 (T3) Mage = 25–27 years), the current report examines associations among parental negativity/positivity and offspring responsibility during adolescence, and subsequent young adult conscientiousness. Findings indicate that associations among parental negativity and offspring virtuous character during adolescence and young adulthood are due primarily to heritable influences. In contrast, the association between concurrent parental positivity and adolescent responsibility was due primarily to heritable and shared environmental influences. These findings underscore the contributions of heritable influences to the associations between parenting and virtuous character that have previously been assumed to be only environmentally influenced, emphasizing the complexity of mechanisms involved in the development of virtuous character.


Virtuous character Heritability Responsibility Parenting Moral development 



This article is part of the Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development project, supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health (R01MH43373 and R01MH59014) and the William T. Grant Foundation. This publication was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (GF13361-152622). In addition, the research reported here was supported in part by the first author’s training grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (R305B090007), and the second author’s work on this manuscript was support by the Kligman Dissertation Fellowship and a training grant (F32 FHD093347A). The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation or other granting agencies. Finally, we are grateful to the participants, without whom this work would not have been possible.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors Amanda M. Ramos, Amanda M. Griffin, Jenae M. Neiderhiser, and David Reiss declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  3. 3.Prevention Science InstituteUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  4. 4.Child Study CenterYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA

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