Throughout adolescence, there is an increase in rule-breaking behavior and a decrease in behavioral school engagement. The role of teacher–student relationship quality in the development of these adjustment problems remains understudied. This study examined how adolescent-reported teacher–student affiliation and dissatisfaction and parent-reported rule-breaking behavior and behavioral engagement impact one another throughout adolescence. In addition, we examined the moderating effect of genes by means of a Biologically Informed Multilocus genetic Profile Score (BIMPS), a composite score reflecting the cumulative effect of multiple dopaminergic genes, with a higher score indicating higher dopamine signaling in the adolescent brain. We used three-year longitudinal data from 1111 adolescents (51 % boys; M age = 13.79), and their parents. Cross-lagged analyses revealed a transactional process in which adolescents who display more rule-breaking behavior and less behavioral engagement experienced increased subsequent dissatisfaction with their teachers, which in turn further increased their adjustment problems. Also, adolescents with more adjustment problems experienced decreased subsequent affiliation with their teachers. The other way around, adolescents’ behavioral engagement also benefitted from positive relationships with teachers. Multi-group analyses revealed genetic moderation for behavioral engagement, but not for rule-breaking. Specifically, adolescents who had a BIMPS score coding for moderate levels of dopamine signaling (instead of high or low signaling) were most affected in their behavioral engagement when they experienced dissatisfaction with their teachers. Our study findings may guide schools in implementing interventions to create a supportive class and school environment including positive, supportive teacher–student relationships and indicate that providing a such a supportive school environment is important for all adolescents.
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Based on previous research (e.g., Mill et al. 2002) and the genotype frequencies found in the present study sample, we included the adolescents carrying the most common genotypes only (i.e., DAT1 9 or 10 repeats). A total of 35 adolescents with other genotypes were left out of the GxE analyses.
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Funding was provided through Grant GOA/12/009 (‘STRATEGIES’ project) of the ‘BOF’ (Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds), KU Leuven—University of Leuven. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
All authors conceived and designed the study. S.D.L performed the data collection and statistical analysis and drafted the manuscript; W. V. D. N. coordinated the study, and reviewed the data analysis and the manuscript; S.C. coordinated the study; K. V. L. coordinated the study, and reviewed the manuscript; H. C. and K. V. coordinated the study, supported the data analysis, and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Conflict of interest
The authors report no conflict of interests.
Approval for the procedure was obtained from the Institutional Review Board of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven).
Active informed consent was obtained from all individual participants (both adolescents and parents) included in the study.
Regarding the VNTR on the DAT1 gene, the number of repeats ranges from 3 to 13, with the 10-repeat (10R) and 9-repeat (9R) polymorphisms being the two most prevalent alleles in most human populations (Mitchell et al. 2000). The DAT1 9-repeat has been linked to reduced dopamine reuptake and increased striatal dopamine signaling (Heinz et al. 2000; VanNess et al. 2005). Thus, in line with Nikolova et al. (2011), we named the DAT1 9-repeat allele carriers as possessing a genotype that codes for ‘high’ levels of dopamine, whereas 10-repeat allele homozygotes were coded as possessing a ‘low’ dopamine-coding genotype.
Regarding the VNTR on the DRD4 gene, the number of repeats ranges from 2 to 11 repeats, with the 2-repeat (2R), 4-repeat (4R), and 7-repeat (7R) alleles being the most prevalent in most human populations (Chang et al. 1996). The 7-repeat allele of this VNTR has been linked to lower amounts of dopamine-inhibitory D4 receptors and hence increased dopamine signaling (Asghari et al. 1995; Wang et al. 2004). Therefore, in line with Nikolova et al. (2011), we considered the DRD4 7-repeat allele carriers as possessing a genotype that codes for ‘high’ levels of dopamine, whereas other allele combinations were considered ‘low’ dopamine genotypes.
For DRD2, the genetic polymorphism is a C/T SNP with ID number rs1800497 also Taq1A. Relative to the T (A1) allele, the C (A2) allele has been associated with increased dopamine signaling (Noble et al. 1991) and reactivity to reward (Stice et al. 2008). Following Nikolova et al. (2011), we coded C allele homozygotes as the ‘high’ dopamine genotype, T allele homozygotes as the ‘low’ dopamine genotype and heterozygotes as the ‘intermediate’ dopamine genotype.
For COMT, the genetic polymorphism is a valine (Val) to methionine (Met) substitution with ID number rs4680. The Met allele has been associated with decreased enzymatic degradation of dopamine (Chen et al. 2004) and increased VS reactivity (Dreher et al. 2009). In line with Nikolova et al. (2011), we considered Met allele homozygotes as ‘high’, Val allele homozygotes as ‘low’, and heterozygotes as ‘intermediate’ genotypes.
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De Laet, S., Colpin, H., Van Leeuwen, K. et al. Transactional Links Between Teacher–Student Relationships and Adolescent Rule-Breaking Behavior and Behavioral School Engagement: Moderating Role of a Dopaminergic Genetic Profile Score. J Youth Adolescence 45, 1226–1244 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-016-0466-6
- School functioning
- Gene-environment interactions
- Teacher-child relationships
- School engagement
- Rule-breaking behavior
- Cross-lagged analyses
- Dopaminergic genes