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Interactions Between Monoamine Oxidase A and Punitive Discipline in African American and Caucasian Men’s Antisocial Behavior


Although previous studies have shown that interactions between monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genotype and childhood maltreatment predict Caucasian boys' antisocial behavior, the generalizability of this gene-environment interaction to more diverse populations and more common parenting behaviors, such as punitive discipline in early childhood, is not clearly understood. Among 189 low-income men (44% African American, 56% Caucasian) who underwent rigorous assessments of family behavior and social context longitudinally across 20 years, those men with the low activity MAOA allele who experienced more punitive discipline at ages 1.5, 2, and 5 years showed more antisocial behavior from ages 15 through 20 years. Effects of punitive discipline on antisocial behavior differed by caregiver and age at which it occurred, suggesting sensitive periods throughout early childhood in which low MAOA activity elevated boys' vulnerability to harsh parenting and risk for antisocial behavior. This genetic vulnerability to punitive discipline-and not just extreme, maltreatment experiences-may generalize to other male populations at risk for antisocial behavior.

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