Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

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)...

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:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

K. E. Anderson , H. Lytton , & D. M. Romney (1986). Mothers' interactions with normal and conduct-disordered boys: Who affects whom? Developmental Psychology, 22, 604609.

K. M. Beaver , C. J. Ferguson , & J. Lynn-Whaley (2010). The association between parenting and levels of self-control: A genetically informative analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 37, 10451065.

K. M. Beaver , M. Ratchford , & C. J. Ferguson (2009). Evidence of genetic and environmental effects on the development of low self-control. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36, 11581172.

K. M. Beaver , J. P. Wright , M. DeLisi , & M. G. Vaughn (2008). Genetic influences on the stability of low self-control: Results from a longitudinal sample of twins. Journal of Criminal Justice, 36, 478485.

J. Belsky , & K. M. Beaver (2011). Cumulative-genetic plasticity, parenting and adolescent self-regulation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52, 619626.

K. L. Bierman , R. L. Nix , M. T. Greenberg , C. Blair , & C. E. Domitrovich (2008). Executive functions and school readiness intervention: Impact, moderation, and mediation in the Head Start REDI program. Developmental Psychopathology, 20, 821843.

J. J. Breton , L. Bergeron , J. P. Valla , C. Berthiaume , N. Gaudet , J. Lambert , (1999). Quebec Child Mental Health Survey: Prevalence of DSM-III-R mental health disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 40, 375384.

R. Calati , D. De Ronchi , M. Bellini , & A. Serretti (2011). The 5-HTTLPR polymorphism and eating disorders: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 44, 191199.

T. Canli , & K. P. Lesch (2007). Long story short: The serotonin transporter in emotion regulation and social cognition. Nature Neuroscience, 10, 11031109.

A. S. Carter , M. G. Briggs-Gowan , S. M. Jones , & T. D. Little (2003). The Infant–Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment (ITSEA): Factor structure, reliability, and validity. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 495514.

C. S. Carver , S. L. Johnson , J. Joormann , Y. Kim , & J. Y. Nam (2011). Serotonin transporter polymorphism interacts with childhood adversity to predict aspects of impulsivity. Psychological Science, 22, 589.

A. Caspi , & P. A. Silva (1995). Temperamental qualities at age three predict personality traits in young adulthood: Longitudinal evidence from a birth cohort. Child Development, 66, 486498.

T. Dix (1991). The affective organization of parenting: Adaptive and maladaptive processes. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 325.

A. L. Duckworth , & M. E. P. Seligman (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16, 939944.

N. Eisenberg , R.A. Fabes , J. Bemzweig , M. Karbon , R. Poulin , & L. Hanis (1993). The relations of emotionality and regulation to preschoolers' social skills and sociometric status. Child Development, 64, 14181438.

N. Eisenberg , R. A. Fabes , I. K. Guthrie , & M. Reise (2000). Dispositional emotionality and regulation: Their role in predicting quality of social functioning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 136157.

G. Fink , B. Sumner , R. Rosie , H. Wilson , & J. McQueen (1999). Androgen actions on central serotonin neurotransmission: Relevance for mood, mental state and memory. Behavioural Brain Research, 105, 5368.

K. Fortuna , M. H. van IJzendoorn , D. Mankuta , M. Kaitz , R. Avinun , R. P. Ebstein , (2011). Differential genetic susceptibility to child risk at birth in predicting observed maternal behavior. PLoS ONE, 6, 18.

E. T. Gershoff (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 539579.

H. H. Goldsmith (1991). A zygosity questionnaire for young twins: A research note. Behavior Genetics, 21, 257269.

H. H. Goldsmith , K. A. Buss , & K. S. Lemery (1997). Toddler and childhood temperament: Expanded content, stronger genetic evidence, new evidence for the importance of environment. Developmental Psychology, 33, 891905.

R. Goodman (1997). The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 581586.

J. E. Grusec , & J. J. Goodnow (1994). Impact of parental discipline methods on the child's internalization of values: A reconceptualization of current points of view. Developmental Psychology, 30, 419.

A. R. Hariri , V. S. Mattay , A. Tessitore , B. Kolachana , F. Fera , D. Goldman , (2002). Serotonin transporter genetic variation and the response of the human amygdala. Science, 297, 400.

E. P. Hayden , D. N. Klein , L. R. Dougherty , T. M. Olino , R. S. Laptook , M. W. Dyson , (2010). The dopamine D2 receptor and depressive and anxious symptoms in childhood: Associations and evidence for gene–environment correlation and gene–environment interaction. Psychiatric Genetics, 20, 304310.

R. M. Houts , A. Caspi , R. C. Pianta , L. Arseneault , & T. E. Moffitt (2010). The challenging pupil in the classroom: The effect of the child on the teacher. Psychological Science. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/095679761038804

J. R. Hughes , & L. N. Gottlieb (2002). The effects of the Webster–Stratton parenting program on maltreating families: Fostering strengths. Child Abuse and Neglect, 28, 10811097.

S. R. Jaffee , A. Caspi , T. E. Moffitt , M. Polo-Tomas , T. S. Price , & A. Taylor (2004). The limits of child effects: Evidence for genetically mediated child effects on corporal punishment but not on physical maltreatment. Developmental Psychology, 40, 10471057.

J. M. Jenkins , J. R. Rasbash , & T. G. O'Connor (2003). The role of the shared family context in differential parenting. Developmental Psychology, 39, 99113.

H. Jovanovic , J. Lundberg , P. Karlsson , Å. Cerin , T. Saijo , A. Varrone , (2008). Sex differences in the serotonin 1A receptor and serotonin transporter binding in the human brain measured by PET. NeuroImage, 39, 14081419.

A. Karreman , C. van Tuijl , M. A. G. van Aken , & M. Dekovic (2006). Parenting and self-regulation in preschoolers: A meta-analysis. Infant and Child Development, 15, 561579.

W. Kaye , K. Gendall , & M. Strobe (1998). Serotonin neuronal function and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment in anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Biological Psychiatry, 44, 825838.

A. Knafo , & N. Galansky (2008). The influence of children on their parents' values: An under-researched topic. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 11431161.

G. Kochanska (1995). Children's temperament, mothers' discipline, and security of attachment: Multiple pathways to emerging internalization. Child Development, 66, 597615.

G. Kochanska , & N. Aksan (1995). Mother–child mutually positive affect, the quality of child compliance to requests and prohibitions, and maternal control as correlates of early internalization. Child Development, 66, 236254.

G. Kochanska , & A. Knaack (2003). Effortful control as a personality characteristic of young children: Antecedents, correlates, and consequences. Journal of Personality, 71, 10871112.

G. Kochanska , R. A. Philibert , & R. A. Barry (2009). Interplay of genes and early mother–child relationship in the development of self-regulation from toddler to preschool age. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50, 13311338.

A. M. Kremen , & J. Block (1998). The roots of ego-control in young adulthood: Links with parenting in early childhood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 10621075.

C. M. Kuhnen , & J. Y. Chiao (2009). Genetic determinants of financial risk taking. PLoS ONE, 4, e4362.

T. C. LaGrange , & R. A. Silverman (1999). Low self-control and opportunity: Testing the general theory of crime as an explanation for gender differences in delinquency. Criminology, 37, 4172.

J. H. Lee , H. T. Kim , & D. S. Hyun (2003). Possible association between serotonin transporter promoter region polymorphism and impulsivity in Koreans. Psychiatry Research, 118, 1924.

K. P. Lesch , D. Bengel , A. Heils , S. Z. Sabol , B. D. Greenberg , S. Petri , (1996). Association of anxiety-related traits with a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene regulatory region. Science, 274, 15271531.

H. Lytton , & D. M. Romney (1991). Parents' differential socialization of boys and girls: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 267296.

I. Manor , J. Eisenberg , S. Tyano , Y. Sever , H. Cohen , R. P. Ebstein , (2001). Family-based association study of the serotonin transporter promoter region polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics, 105, 9195.

S. B. Manuck , J. D. Flory , R. E. Ferrell , K. M. Dent , J. J. Mann , & M. F. Muldoon (1999). Aggression and anger-related traits associated with a polymorphism of the tryptophan hydroxylase gene. Biological Psychiatry, 45, 603614.

J. K. McQueen , H. Wilson , & G. Fink (1997). Estradiol-17β increase serotonin transporter (SERT) mRNA levels and the density of SERT-binding sites in female rat brain. Molecular Brain Research, 45, 1323.

W. R. Mills-Koonce , C. B. Propper , J. L. Gariepy , C. Blair , P. Garrett-Peters , & M. J. Cox (2007). Bidirectional genetic and environmental influences on mother and child behavior: The family system as the unit of analyses. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 10731087.

M. R. Munafò , T. G. Clark , K. H. Roberts , & E. C. Johnston (2006). Neuroticism mediates the association of the serotonin transporter gene with lifetime major depression. Neuropsychobiology, 53, 18.

M. Nachmias , M. Gunnar , S. Mangelsdorf , R. H. Parritz , & K. Buss (1996). Behavioral inhibition and stress reactivity: The moderating role of attachment security. Child Development, 67, 508522.

R. E. Nisbett , J. Aronson , C. Blair , W. Dickens , J. Flynn , D. F. Halpern , (2012). Intelligence: New findings and theoretical developments. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/a0026699

S. P. Novak , & R. R. Clayton (2001). The influence of school environment and self-regulation on transitions between stages of cigarette smoking: A multilevel analysis. Health Psychology, 20, 196207.

R. D. Oades (2010). The role of serotonin in ADHD. In C. P Müller & B. L. Jacobs (Eds.), Handbook of behavioral neuroscience: Vol. 21. Handbook of the behavioral neurobiology of serotonin (pp. 565584). San Diego, CA: Elsevier.

L. Pergamin-Hight , M. J. Bakersmans-Kranenburg , M. H. van IJzendoorn , & Y. Bar-Haim (2012). Variations in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene and biased attention for emotional information: A meta-analysis. Biological Psychiatry, 71, 373379.

R. Plomin , J. C. DeFries , & J. C. Loehlin (1977). Genotype–environment interaction and correlation in the analysis of human behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 84, 309322.

T. C. Pratt , & F. T. Cullen (2000). The empirical status of Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime: A meta-analysis. Criminology, 38, 931964.

L. Pulkkinen , K. Kokko , & J. Rantanen (2012). Paths from socioemotional behavior in middle childhood to personality in middle adulthood. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/a0027463

M. J. H. Rietveld , J. J. Hudziak , M. Bartels , C. E. M. van Beijsterveldt , & D. I. Boomsma (2004). Heritability of attention problems in children: Longitudinal results from a study of twins, age 3 to 12. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 577588.

M. Rutter , A. Caspi , & T. E. Moffitt (2003). Using sex differences in psychopathology to study causal mechanisms: Unifying issues and research strategies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 10921115.

J. Samochowiec , S. Syrek , P. Michał , A. Ryzewska-Wódecka , A. Samochowiec , J. Horodnicki , (2004). Polymorphisms in the serotonin transporter and monoamine oxidase A genes and their relationship to personality traits measured by the Temperament and Character Inventory and NEO Five-Factor Inventory in healthy volunteers. Neuropsychobiology, 50, 174181.

A. Serretti , L. Mandelli , C. Lorenzi , S. Landoni , R. Calati , C. Insacco , (2006). Temperament and character in mood disorders: Influence of DRD4, SERTPR, TPH and MAO-A polymorphisms. Neuropsychobiology, 53, 916.

M. B. Solomon , & J. P. Herman (2009). Sex differences in psychopathology: Of gonads, adrenals and mental illness. Physiology & Behavior, 97, 250258.

S. F. Stoltenberg , & J. M. Vandever (2009). Gender moderates the association between 5-HTTLPR and decision-making under ambiguity but not under risk. Neuropharmacology, 58, 423428.

E. Verona , T. E. Joiner , F. Johnson , & T. W. Bender (2006). Gender specific gene–environment interactions on laboratory-assessed aggression. Biological Psychology, 71, 3341.

C. Zahn-Waxler , E. A. Shirtcliff , & K. Marceau (2008). Disorders of childhood and adolescence: Gender and psychopathology. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 4, 275303.

D. Li , P. C. Sham , M. J. Owen , & L. He (2006). Meta-analysis shows significant association between dopamine system genes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Human Molecular Genetics, 15, 22762284.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 55 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 211 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.