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The impact of high neuroticism in parents on children's psychosocial functioning in a population at high risk for major affective disorder: A family–environmental pathway of intergenerational risk



Behavioral genetic studies indicate that nongenetic factors play a role in the development of bipolar and major depressive disorders. The trait of neuroticism is common among individuals with major affective disorders. We hypothesized that high neuroticism among parents affects the family environment and parenting practices and thereby increases the risk of psychosocial problems among offspring. This hypothesis is tested in a sample of participants at high and low risk for major affective disorders, which contained parents with bipolar disorder (55), major depression (21), or no mental disorder (148) and their 146 children between 4 and 14 years of age. Parents with high neuroticism scores were characterized by low psychosocial functioning, poor parenting, more dependent stressful life events, and the use of more emotion-focused and less task-oriented coping skills. High neuroticism in parents was associated with internalizing and externalizing problems among the children, as assessed by parent and teacher ratings on the Child Behavior Checklist and clinician ratings. The results suggest that high neuroticism in parents with major affective disorders is associated with inadequate parenting practices and the creation of a stressful family environment, which are subsequently related to psychosocial problems among the offspring.This work was supported by a grant to the Research Team for the Study of the Development of Affective Disorders (Drs. S. Hodgins, A. Schwartzman, L. Serbin, O. Bernazzani, C. Laroche, W. R. Beardslee, G. A. Carlson, and R. Rende) from the Fonds de la Recherche en Santé du Québec and by grants from the combined program of the Conseil Québecois de la Recherche Sociale and Fonds de la Recherche en Santé du Québec (1994–1998) as awarded to S. Hodgins. M. A. Ellenbogen is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The authors would like to thank members of the Research Team for the Study of the Development of Affective Disorders and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on these findings.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Mark A. Ellenbogen, Ph.D., Départment de Psychologie, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, Succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3J7, Canada; E-mail:


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