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Evocative gene–parenting correlations and academic performance at first grade: An exploratory study

  • Cathi B. Propper (a1), Michael J. Shanahan (a1), Rosemary Russo (a1) and W. Roger Mills-Koonce (a1)

Academic performance during the first years of school lays the groundwork for subsequent trajectories of academic success throughout childhood and adolescence. The current study tests a model according to which a gene–parenting correlation in the first 3 years of life is associated with subsequent psychosocial adjustment and then academic performance in the first grade (as indicated by teachers' assessment of academic behavior and two subscales of the Woodcock–Johnson Test of Achievement, Third Edition). Drawing on multiple waves of data from the Durham Child Health and Development Study, we find that risk alleles for dopamine receptor genes (dopamine receptor D4 for girls, dopamine receptor D2 for boys) are associated with less sensitive parenting. For girls, parenting mediates the link between dopamine receptor D4 and all academic outcomes. There is some indication that parenting also influences girls' withdrawn behavior in the classroom, which in turn influences teachers' assessments of academic performance. For boys, some evidence suggests that parenting is associated with emotion regulation, which is associated with teachers' assessments of academic behavior and both subscales of the Woodcock–Johnson. Replications of this exploratory study are necessary, but these findings provide a first step in understanding how evocative correlations in the home may predict indicators of psychosocial adjustment that in turn influence performance and achievement at school.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Cathi Propper, Center for Developmental Science, 100 East Franklin Street, CB 8115, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8115; E-mail:
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