The current study evaluated the differential-susceptibility hypothesis in explaining the intergenerational transmission of parenting, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Exposure to maternal parenting was measured prospectively when respondents were adolescents and parental stress was measured when they were parents themselves, some 14 years later, on average. Cumulative-genetic plasticity was measured by dominantly coding the presence of putative plasticity alleles from four genes: the 10R allele of DAT1, the A1 allele of DRD2, the 7R allele of DRD4, and the short allele of 5HTTLPR. Results showed that the more plasticity alleles individuals carried (range 0–4), the more that parenting experienced in adolescence predicted future parenting experience. Those respondents with the most plasticity alleles not only experienced the highest levels of parental stress when exposed to negative maternal parenting in adolescence but the lowest levels when exposed to positive maternal parenting in adolescence. These results indicate that differential susceptibility is operative in the case of the intergenerational transmission of parenting, which could explain why estimates of such transmission have proven so modest in studies which fail to consider GXE interactions.
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The Add Health respondents were also genotyped for a polymorphism in the promoter region of the MAOA gene. However, since MAOA is X-linked, including this polymorphism in the plasticity index would necessitate separate models for males and females. Given that there is not a theoretical reason to believe that plasticity would differentially affect males and females in terms of parenting, we opted to exclude MAOA from the analyses and analyze males and females simultaneously.
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This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris and funded by Grant PO1-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgement is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in original design. Persons interested in obtain data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 (firstname.lastname@example.org). No direct support was received from Grant PO1-HD31921 for this analysis.
Conflict of interest
The authors have no competing financial interests in relation to the work described.
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Beaver, K.M., Belsky, J. Gene-Environment Interaction and the Intergenerational Transmission of Parenting: Testing the Differential-Susceptibility Hypothesis. Psychiatr Q 83, 29–40 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11126-011-9180-4
- Differential susceptibility