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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Nature and Nurture of Parenting Behavior: Association of Parental Serotonin Transporter Genotype and Personality Traits with Self-Reported and Observed Parenting Behavior

  • Author(s): Lau Schumann, Lynette
  • Advisor(s): Lee, Steve S.
  • et al.

Given that parenting behavior is central to children's physical, academic, and socio-emotional outcomes, improved understanding about the correlates of human parenting behavior will benefit children's development. This dissertation utilized two separate ethnically and socio-economically diverse community-based samples (177 parents of 6-9 year-old children with and without ADHD; and a subset of 56 mothers and 57 fathers selected from a larger study of newlywed marriage and family development) recruited from the same metropolitan area in the western United States. Our goals were three-fold: (1) to examine the association of parental 5-HTTLPR genotype and personality traits (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, and agreeableness) with self-reported and observed parenting behavior; (2) to evaluate parenting stress and negative child behavior as moderators of the relationship between parental personality traits and parenting behavior; (3) and to test parental personality traits as independent and collective mediators of the relationship between 5-HTTLPR and parenting behavior. Several key innovations were featured, including stringent control of parental depression and negative child behavior, use of normed measures of parental personality, and employment of rigorous boostrapping procedures to evaluate multiple mediation. In the first sample, elevated parental extraversion was individually and independently associated with increased observed positive parenting behavior; parenting stress and child negative behavior separately moderated the relationship between agreeableness level and positive parenting behavior; s-allele carriers (i.e., s/s or s/l) displayed fewer instances of observed negative parenting behavior; and parental extraversion mediated the association of 5-HTTLPR with self-reported positive parenting and self-reported parental involvement. In the second sample, child negativity moderated the relationship between parental neuroticism and observed parental supportiveness, without control of parental depression, whereas parenting stress moderated the relationship between parental agreeableness level and observed cognitive nurturance (regardless of whether parental depression was controlled). We consider emerging evidence on the correlates of individual differences in human parenting behavior and discuss implications for future research and parenting interventions.

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