We examined the influence of a common allelic variation in the dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene and caregiver quality on temperament in early childhood. Children 18–21 months of age were genotyped for the DRD4 48 base pair tandem repeat polymorphism, which has been implicated in the development of attention, sensation seeking, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The children also interacted with their caregiver for 10 min in a laboratory setting, and these videotaped interactions were coded for parenting quality using an observational rating procedure. The presence of the DRD4 7-repeat allele was associated with differences in the influence of parenting on a measure of temperamental sensation seeking constructed from caregiver reports on children's activity level, impulsivity, and high-intensity pleasure. Children with the 7-repeat allele were influenced by parenting quality, with lower quality parenting associated with higher levels of sensation seeking; children without the 7-repeat allele were uninfluenced by parenting quality. Differences between alleles were not related to the child's self-regulation as assessed by the effortful control measure. Previous studies have indicated that the 7-repeat allele is under positive selective pressure, and our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the DRD4 7-repeat allele increased children's sensitivity to environmental factors such as parenting. This study shows that genes influence the relation between parenting and temperament in ways that are important to normal development and psychopathology.
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