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Boys' serotonin transporter genotype affects maternal behavior through self-control: A case of evocative gene–environment correlation

  • Roni Pener-Tessler (a1), Reut Avinun (a1), Florina Uzefovsky (a1), Shany Edelman (a1), Richard P. Ebstein (a2) and Ariel Knafo (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 11 February 2013

Self-control, involving processes such as delaying gratification, concentrating, planning, following instructions, and adapting emotions and behavior to situational requirements and social norms, may have a profound impact on children's adjustment. The importance of self-control suggests that parents are likely to modify their parenting based on children's ability for self-control. We study the effect of children's self-control, a trait partially molded by genetics, on their mothers' parenting, a process of evocative gene–environment correlation. Israeli 3.5-year-old twins (N = 320) participated in a lab session in which their mothers' parenting was observed. DNA was available from most children (N = 228). Mothers described children's self-control in a questionnaire. Boys were lower in self-control and received less positive parenting from their mothers, in comparison with girls. For boys, and not for girls, the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region gene predicted mothers' levels of positive parenting, an effect mediated by boys' self-control. The implications of this evocative gene–environment correlation and the observed sex differences are discussed.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Ariel Knafo, Department of Psychology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel; E-mail:
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