This study examined the role of gene × environment interaction (G × E) in the development of effortful control (EC) and externalizing symptoms (EXT). Participants included 361 adopted children, and their Adoptive Parents (APs) and Birth Mothers (BMs), drawn from the Early Growth and Development Study. The primary adoptive caregivers’ (AP1) laxness and overreactivity were assessed when children were 27-months-old, and used as indices of environmental influences on EC. Heritable influences on child EC were assessed by the BMs’ personality characteristics (emotion dysregulation, agreeableness). Secondary adoptive caregivers (AP2) reported on children’s EC at 54 months, and EXT at 7 years. Interactions between BM characteristics and AP1 laxness were related to EC and indirectly predicted EXT via EC. Parental laxness and EC were positively associated if children had high heritable risk for poor EC (BM high emotion dysregulation or low agreeableness), but negatively associated if children had low heritable risk for poor EC (BM low emotion dysregulation or high agreeableness). BM agreeableness also moderated associations between AP1 overreactivity and effortful control, and yielded a similar pattern of results. Our findings suggest that G × E is an important first step in the development of EXT via its effect on EC. Consistent with “goodness of fit” models, heritable tendencies can affect which parenting practices best support EC development.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics