Skip to main content Accessibility help

Childhood temperament: Passive gene–environment correlation, gene–environment interaction, and the hidden importance of the family environment

  • Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant (a1), Karen Kao (a1), Gregory Swann (a1) and H. Hill Goldsmith (a2)


Biological parents pass on genotypes to their children, as well as provide home environments that correlate with their genotypes; thus, the association between the home environment and children's temperament can be genetically (i.e., passive gene–environment correlation) or environmentally mediated. Furthermore, family environments may suppress or facilitate the heritability of children's temperament (i.e., gene–environment interaction). The sample comprised 807 twin pairs (mean age = 7.93 years) from the longitudinal Wisconsin Twin Project. Important passive gene–environment correlations emerged, such that home environments were less chaotic for children with high effortful control, and this association was genetically mediated. Children with high extraversion/surgency experienced more chaotic home environments, and this correlation was also genetically mediated. In addition, heritability of children's temperament was moderated by home environments, such that effortful control and extraversion/surgency were more heritable in chaotic homes, and negative affectivity was more heritable under crowded or unsafe home conditions. Modeling multiple types of gene–environment interplay uncovered the complex role of genetic factors and the hidden importance of the family environment for children's temperament and development more generally.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant, Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 871104, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1104; E-mail:


Hide All
Abbott, A., & Bartlett, D. (2001). Infant motor development and equipment use in the home. Child, Care, and Development, 27, 295306.
Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Akaike, H. (1987). Factor analysis and AIC. Psychometrika, 52, 317332.
Angold, A., Erkanli, A., Silberg, J., Eaves, L., & Costello, E. J. (2002). Depression scale scores in 8–17-year-olds: Effects of age and gender. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, 10521063.
Baumrind, D. (1993). The average respectable environment is not good enough: A response to Scarr. Child Development, 64, 12991317.
Boivin, M., Pérusse, D., Dionne, G., Saysset, V., Zoccolillo, M., Tarabulsy, G. M., et al. (2005). The genetic–environmental etiology of parents' perceptions and self-assessed behaviours toward their 5-month-old infants in a large twin and singleton sample. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 612630.
Boomsma, D. I., de Geus, E. J. C., van Baal, G. C. M., & Koopmans, J. R. (1999). A religious upbringing reduces the influence of genetic factors on disinhibition: Evidence for interaction between genotype and environment on personality. Twin Research, 2, 115125.
Borkenau, P., Riemann, R., Angleitner, A., & Spinath, F. M. (2002). Similarity of childhood experiences and personality resemblance in monozygotic and dizygotic twins: A test of the equal environments assumption. Personality and Individual Differences, 33, 261269.
Bouchard, T. Jr. (2004). Genetic influence on human psychological traits: A survey. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 148151.
Bradley, R. H. (1993). Children's home environments, health, behavior, and intervention efforts: A review using the home inventory as a maker measure. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 119, 439480.
Bradley, R. H. (2006). Home environment. In Watt, N., Ayoub, C., Bradley, R. H., Puma, J., & LaBoeuf, W. (Eds.), The crisis in youth mental health: Vol. 4. Early intervention programs and policies (pp. 89120). Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. (2005). Caring for children around the world: A view from HOME. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29, 468478.
Bronfenbrenner, U., & Ceci, S. (1994). Nature–nurture reconceptualized in developmental perspective: A bioecological model. Psychological Review, 101, 568586.
Brooks-Gunn, J., Klebanov, P. K., & Duncan, G. J. (1996). Ethnic differences in children's intelligence test scores: Role of economic deprivation, home environment, and maternal characteristics. Child Development, 67, 396408.
Button, T. M. M., Scourfield, J., Martin, N., Purcell, S., & McGuffin, P. (2005). Family dysfunction interacts with genes in the causation of antisocial symptoms. Behavior Genetics, 35, 115120.
Caldwell, B. M., & Bradley, R. H. (1984). Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment. Little Rock: University of Arkansas Press.
Coldwell, J., Pike, A., & Dunn, J. (2006). Household chaos—Links with parenting and child behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 11161122.
Cronk, N. J., Slutske, W. S., Madden, P. A. F., Bucholz, K. K., Reich, W., & Heath, A. C. (2002). Emotional and behavioral problems among female twins: An evaluation of the equal environments assumption. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 829837.
Deater-Deckard, K., & O'Connor, T. G. (2000). Parent–child mutuality in early childhood: Two behavioral genetic studies. Developmental Psychology, 36, 561570.
Deater-Deckard, K., & Petrill, S. A. (2004). Parent–child dyadic mutuality and child behavior problems: An investigation of gene–environment processes. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 11711179.
D'Onofrio, B. M., Turkheimer, E., Emery, R. E., Slutske, W. S., & Martin, N. G. (2005). A genetically informed study of marital instability and its association with offspring psychopathology. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114, 570586.
Dumas, J., Nissley, J., Nordstrom, A., Smith, E., Prinz, R., & Levine, D. (2005). Home chaos: Sociodemographic, parenting, interactional, and child correlates. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34, 93104.
Eisenberg, N., Valiente, C., Spinrad, T. L., Liew, J., Zhou, Q., Losoya, S. H., et al. (2009). Longitudinal relations of children's effortful control, impulsivity, and negative emotionality to their externalizing, internalizing, and co-occurring behavior problems. Developmental Psychology, 45, 9881008.
Ellis, B. J., Boyce, W. T., Belsky, J., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2011). Differential susceptibility to the environment: An evolutionary–neurodevelopmental theory. Developmental Psychopathology, 23, 728.
Evans, G. (2006). Child development and the physical environment. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 423451.
Evans, G., Gonnella, C., Marcynyszyn, L., Gentile, L., & Salpekar, N. (2005). The role of chaos in poverty and children's socioemotinoal adjustment. Psychological Science, 16, 560565.
Evans, G., Wells, N., & Moch, A. (2003). Housing and mental health: A review of the evidence and a methodological and conceptual critique. Journal of Social Issues, 59, 475500.
Forget-Dubois, N., Pérusse, D., Turecki, G., Girard, A., Billette, J.-M., Rouleau, G., et al. (2003). Diagnosing zygosity in infant twins: Physical similarity, genotyping, and chorionicity. Twin Research, 6, 479485.
Gagne, J. R., & Goldsmith, H. H. (2011). A longitudinal analysis of anger and inhibitory control in twins from 12 to 36 months of age. Developmental Science, 14, 112124.
Gagne, J. R., Van Hulle, C. A., Aksan, N., Essex, M. J., & Goldsmith, H. H. (2011). Deriving childhood temperament measures from emotion-eliciting behavioral episodes: Scale construction and initial validation. Psychological Assessment, 23, 337353.
Gjone, H., & Stevenson, J. (1997). A longitudinal twin study of temperament and behavior problems: Common genetic or environmental influences? Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 14481456.
Goldsmith, H. H. (1988). Human developmental behavioral genetics: Mapping the effects of genes and environments. Annals of Child Development, 5, 187227.
Goldsmith, H. H. (1991). A zygosity questionnaire for young twins: A research note. Behavior Genetics, 21, 257269.
Goldsmith, H. H., Buss, K. A., & Lemery, K. S. (1997). Toddler and childhood temperament: Expanded content, stronger genetic evidence, new evidence for the importance of environment. Developmental Psychology, 33, 891905.
Goldsmith, H. H., Lemery, K. S., Buss, K. A., & Campos, J. J. (1999). Genetic analyses of focal aspects of infant temperament. Developmental Psychology, 35, 972985.
Goldsmith, H. H., Reilly, J., Lemery, K. S., Longley, S., & Prescott, A. (1993). Preliminary manual for the Preschool Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery (Technical Report Version 1.0). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin–Madison, Department of Psychology.
Harris, J. R. (1998). The nurture assumption: Why children turn out the way they do. New York: Free Press.
Hur, Y. (2009). Genetic and environmental contributions to childhood temperament in South Korean Twins. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 12, 549554.
Jaffee, S. R., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., & Taylor, A. (2004). Physical maltreatment victim to antisocial child: Evidence of an environmentally mediated process. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 113, 4455.
Johnson, W. (2007). Genetic and environmental influences on behavior: Capturing all the interplay. Psychological Review, 114, 423440.
Kendler, K. S., & Baker, J. H. (2007). Genetic influences on measures of the environment: A systematic review. Psychological Medicine, 37, 615626.
Kendler, K. S., & Karkowski-Shuman, L. (1997). Stressful life events and genetic liability to major depression: Genetic control of exposure to the environment. Psychological Medicine, 27, 539547.
Kendler, K. S., Neale, M. C., Prescott, C. A., Kessler, R. C., Heath, A. C., Corey, L. A., et al. (1996). Childhood parental loss and alcoholism in women: A causal analysis using a twin-family design. Psychological Medicine, 26, 7995.
Kendler, K. S., Thornton, L. M., & Pederson, N. L. (2000). Tobacco consumption in Swedish twins reared apart and reared together. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57, 886892.
Krueger, R., South, S., Johnson, W., & Iacono, W. (2008). The heritability of personality is not always 50%: Gene–environment interactions and correlations between personality and parenting. Journal of Personality, 76, 14851521.
Lemery-Chalfant, K. (2010). How genes and environments work together to promote resilience. In Reich, J., Zautra, A. J., & Hall, J. S. (Eds.), Handbook of adult resilience. New York: Guilford Press.
Lemery-Chalfant, K., Clifford, S., & Swann, G. (in press). Temperament and child psychopathology: Specificity in shared genetic effects. In Kim, Y. (Series Ed.) & Saudino, K. & Ganiban, J. (Vol. Eds.). Behavior genetics book series: Behavior genetics of temperament and personality. New York: Springer.
Lemery-Chalfant, K., Doelger, L., & Goldsmith, H. H. (2008). Genetic relations between effortful and attentional control and symptoms of psychopathology in middle childhood. Infant and Child Development, 17, 365385.
Lemery-Chalfant, K., Goldsmith, H. H., Schmidt, N. L., Arneson, C. L., & Van Hulle, C. A. (2006). Wisconsin Twin Project: Current directions and findings. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 9, 10301037.
Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). The neighborhoods they live in: The effects of neighborhood residence on child and adolescent outcomes. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 309337.
Lichtenstein, P., & Pedersen, N. L. (1997). Does genetic variance for cognitive abilities account for genetic variance in educational achievement and occupational status? A study of twins reared apart and twins reared together. Biodemography and Social Biology, 44, 7790.
Liddell, C., & Kruger, P. (1989). Activity and social behaviour in a crowded South African township nursery—A follow-up study on the effects of crowding at home. Merrill–Parmer Quarterly, 35, 209226.
Lytton, H., & Gallagher, L. (2002). Parenting twins and the genetics of parenting. In Bornstein, M. H. (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Vol. 1. Children and parenting (2nd ed., pp. 227253). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Matheny, A., & Phillips, K. (2001). Temperament and context: Correlates of home environment with temperament continuity and change, newborn to 30 months. In Wachs, T. D. & Kohnstamm, G. A. (Eds.), Temperament in context (pp. 81101). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Matheny, A., Wachs, T., Ludwig, J., & Phillips, K. (1995). Bring order out of chaos: Psychometric characteristics of the confusion, hubbub, and order scale. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 16, 429444.
Matheny, A., Wilson, R., & Thoben, A. (1987). Home and mother: Relations with infant temperament. Developmental Psychology, 23, 323331.
McCall, R. (1991). So many interactions, so little evidence: Why? In Wachs, T. & Plomin, R. (Eds.), Conceptualization and measurement of organism environment interaction (pp. 142161). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
McGue, M., & Bouchard, T. J. (1984). Adjustment of twin data for the effects of age and sex. Behavior Genetics, 14, 325343.
Moberg, T., Lichtenstein, P., Forsman, M., & Larsson, H. (2011). Internalizing behavior in adolescent girls affects parental emotional overinvolvement: A cross-lagged twin study. Behavior Genetics, 41, 223233.
Moffitt, T., Caspi, A., & Rutter, M. (2006). Measured gene–environment interactions in psychopathology: Concepts, research strategies, and implications for research, intervention, and public understanding of genetics. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 527.
Moilanen, I., Linna, S. L., Ebeling, H., Kumpulainen, K., Tamminen, T., Piha, J., et al. (1999). Are twins' behavioral/emotional problems different from singletons'? European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 8, IV/62IV/67.
Mullineaux, P., Deater-Deckard, K., Petrill, S., Thompson, L., & DeThorne, L. (2009). Temperament in middle childhood: A behavioral genetic analysis of fathers' and mothers' reports. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 737746.
Murray, R. (1974). The influence of crowding on children's behavior. In Canter, D. & Lee, T. (Eds.), Psychology and the built environment (pp. 112117). London: Wiley.
Neale, M. C., Boker, S. M., Xie, G., & Maes, H. H. (2003). Mx: Statistical modeling (6th ed.). Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Psychiatry.
Neale, M. C., & Cardon, L. R. (1992). Methodology for genetic studies of twins and families. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.
Novak, G., & Pelaez, M. (2003). Child and adolescent development: A behavioral systems approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Pettit, G., Bates, J., & Dodge, K. (1997). Supportive parenting, ecological context, and children's adjustment: A seven-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 68, 908923.
Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., McClearn, G. E., & McGuffin, P. (2001). Behavioral genetics. New York: Worth.
Pluess, M., & Belsky, J. (2010). Differential susceptibility to parenting and quality child care. Developmental Psychology, 46, 379390.
Prevatt, F. (2003). The contribution of parenting practices in a risk and resiliency model of children's adjustment. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 21, 469480.
Price, T. S., Freeman, B., Craig, I. W., Petrill, S. A., Ebersole, L., & Plomin, R. (2000). Infant zygosity can be assigned by parental report questionnaire data. Twin Research, 3, 129133.
Price, T., & Jaffee, S. (2008). Effects of the family environment: Gene–environment interaction and passive gene–environment correlation. Developmental Psychology, 44, 305315.
Purcell, S. (2002). Variance components models for gene–environment interaction in twin analysis. Twin Research, 5, 554571.
Rathouz, P., Van Hulle, C., Rodgers, J., Waldman, I., & Lahey, B. (2008). Specification, testing, and interpretation of gene-by-measured-environment interaction models in the presence of gene–environment correlation. Behavior Genetics, 38, 301315.
Reiss, D., & Leve, L. D. (2007). Genetic expression outside the skin: Clues to mechanisms of genotype × environment interaction. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 10051027.
Reiss, D., & Neiderhiser, J. M. (2000). The interplay of genetic influences and social processes in developmental theory: Specific mechanisms are coming into view. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 357374.
Rhee, S. H., Cosgrove, V. E., Schmitz, S., Haberstick, B. C., Corley, R. C., & Hewitt, J. K. (2007). Early childhood temperament and the covariation between internalizing and externalizing behavior in school-aged children. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 10, 3344.
Riggins-Caspers, K. M., Cadoret, R. J., Knutson, J. F., & Langbehn, D. (2003). Biology–environment interaction and evocative biology–environment correlation: Contributions of harsh discipline and parental psychopathology to problem adolescent behaviors. Behavior Genetics, 33, 205220.
Rothbart, M. K., Ahadi, S. A., Hershey, K. L., & Fisher, P. (2001). Investigations of temperament at 3–7 years: The Children's Behavior Questionnaire. Child Development, 72, 13941408.
Rothbart, M. K., & Bates, J. E. (1998). Temperament. In Damon, W. (Series Ed.) & Eisenberg, N. (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional and personality development (5th ed., pp. 105176). New York: Wiley.
Rothbart, M. K., & Bates, J. E. (2006). Temperament. In Damon, W. (Series Ed.) & Eisenberg, N. (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional and personality development (6th ed., pp. 99166). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Rowe, David (1994). The limits of family influence. New York: Guilford Press.
Rubin, K., Coplan, R., & Bowker, J. (2009). Social withdrawal in childhood. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 141171.
Rutter, M. (2006). Genes and behavior: Nature–nurture interplay explained. Oxford: Blackwell.
Rutter, M., Moffitt, T., & Caspi, A. (2006). Gene–environment interplay and psychopathology: Multiple varieties but real effects. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 226261.
Saudino, K. (2005). Behavior genetics and child temperament. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 26, 214223.
Saudino, K. J., & Cherny, S. S. (2001). Parent ratings of temperament in twins. In Emde, R. N. & Hewitt, J. K. (Eds.), The transition from infancy to early childhood: Genetic and environmental influences in the MacArthur Longitudinal Twin Study (pp. 7388). New York: Oxford University Press.
Saudino, K. J., Pedersen, N. L., Lichtenstein, P., McClearn, G. E., & Plomin, R. (1997). Can personality explain genetic influences on life events? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 196206.
Saudino, K. J., & Plomin, R. (1997). Cognitive and temperamental mediators of genetic contributions to the home environment during infancy. Merrill–Palmer Quarterly, 43, 123.
Scarr, S. (1992). Developmental theories for the 1990s: Development and individual differences. Child Development, 63, 119.
Schmitz, S., & Saudino, K. J. (2003). Links between temperament and behavior problems in early adolescence. In Petrill, S. A., Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., & Hewitt, J. K. (Eds.), Nature, nurture, and the transition to early adolescence (pp. 185198). New York: Oxford University Press.
Schmitz, S., Saudino, K. J., Plomin, R., Fulker, D. W., & DeFries, J. C. (1996). Genetic and environmental influences on temperament in middle childhood: Analyses of teacher and tester ratings. Child Development, 67, 409422.
Schwartz, C., Snidman, N., & Kagan, J. (1996). Early childhood temperament as determinant of externalizing behavior in adolescence. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 527537.
Shanahan, M. J., & Hofer, S. M. (2005). Social context in gene–environment interactions: Retrospect and prospect. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 60B, 6576.
Silventoinen, K., Kaprio, J., Lahelma, E., & Koskenvuo, M. (2000). Relative effect of genetic and environmental factors on body height: Differences across birth cohorts among Finnish men and women. American Journal of Public Health, 90, 627630.
Singh, A., & Waldman, I. (2010). The etiology of associations between negative emotionality and childhood externalizing disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119, 376388.
Slutske, W. C., Heath, A. C., Dinwiddie, S. H., Madden, P. A. R., Bucholz, K. K., Dunne, M. P., et al. (1997). Modeling genetic and environmental influences in the etiology of conduct disorder: A study of 2,682 adult twin pairs. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 266279.
South, S. C., & Krueger, R. F. (2011). Socioeconomic status and health problems moderate genetic and environmental influences on internalizing pathology. Psychological Medicine, 41, 107117.
Sroufe, L. A. (1997). Psychopathology as an outcome of development. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 251268.
Supplee, L., Unikel, E., & Shaw, D. (2007). Physical environmental adversity and the protective role of maternal monitoring in relation to early child conduct problems. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 28, 166183.
Thapar, A., Harold, G., & McGuffin, P. (1998). Life events and depressive symptoms in childhood—Shared genes or shared adversity: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39, 11531158.
Turkheimer, E. (2000). Three laws of behavior genetics and what they mean. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 160164.
Valiente, C., Lemery-Chalfant, K., & Reiser, M. (2007). Pathways to problem behaviors: Chaotic homes, parent and child effortful control, and parenting. Social Development, 16, 249267.
Wachs, T. D. (1988). Relevance of physical environment influences for toddler temperament. Infant Behavior and Development, 11, 431445.
Wachs, T. D. (2000). Necessary but not sufficient: The respective roles of single and multiple influences on individual development. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Wachs, T. D. (2010). Viewing microsystem chaos through a Bronfenbrenner bioecological lens. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Waldman, I. D. (2007). Gene–environment interactions reexamined: Does mother's marital stability interact with the dopamine receptor D2 gene in the etiology of childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 11171128.
Wichers, M., Purcell, S., Danckaerts, M., Derom, C., Derom, R., Vlietinck, R., et al. (2002). Prenatal life and postnatal psychopathology: Evidence for negative gene–birth weight interaction. Psychological Medicine, 32, 11651174.
Zahn-Waxler, C., Shirtcliff, E. A., & Marceau, K. (2008). Disorders of childhood and adolescence: Gender and psychopathology. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 4, 275303.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed