Physiological and Cognitive Mediators of Gene x Environment Interaction Effects on Children's Antisocial Behaviour

Lead Research Organisation: Economic and Social Research Council
Department Name: UNLISTED


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Technical Summary

Antisocial behaviour that emerges in childhood tends to persist into adulthood, is resistant to treatment, and carries a heavy cost to the individual, to families, and to society at large. Prevention of childhood antisocial behaviour would be aided by research that identifies modifiable risk factors for antisocial behaviour problems. Existing evidence suggests that|childrens antisocial behaviour problems are most likely to develop when genetically-vulnerable children experience harsh, non-supportive parenting. The goal of the proposed research is to identify physiological and psychological factors that explain this association. First, we predict that genetically-vulnerable children will be susceptible to the adverse effects of harsh, non-supportive parenting on antisocial behaviour, whereas children who do not carry genetic risk variants will be relatively unaffected by experiences of harsh, non-supportive parenting. Second, we predict that antisocial behaviour problems will be most common among the group of children who are genetically-vulnerable and who experienced harsh, non-supportive parenting because they are highly physiologically reactive to social stressors they encounter in their dayto-day lives. Third, we predict that this physiological reactivity will be associated with a cognitive style characterised by a tendency to attribute hostile intent to others (even when their behaviour is benign) and to respond accordingly with aggression or other antisocial behaviours. We predict that this pattern of physiological reactivity and social information processing style will be most characteristic of children who are high in antisocial behaviour, but low in callous-unemotional traits. We will test these hypotheses in a sample of 300 children who participated in the National Evaluation of Sure Start when they were three years old. Half the children will be included in the sample because their parents engaged in very high levels of harsh, non-supportive parenting when the children were three and half will be included because their|parents engaged in very low levels of harsh, non-supportive parenting. Children will otherwise be similar in terms of demographic characteristics that are associated with antisocial behaviour in the population (e.g., family social class,|neighbourhood conditions, parental education). These children, who will be 8 to 10 years of age at the start of the study, will be visited in their homes by research assistants. Research assistants will interview parents about the childrens behaviour, childrens experiences of stressful life events, and family demographics. They will also interview children about|their own experiences of stressful life events, cognitive style, and will ask children to participate in a social challenge task that is designed to provoke aggressive behaviour and to activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is a major stress response system. Children will provide saliva samples throughout the visit (and for two days following the|visit) that will later be analysed for the stress hormone cortisol (which is a byproduct of the HPA axis). They will also|provide cheek swabs that will be genotyped. Childrens teachers will be contacted to provide information about childrens |behaviour. This study is expected to provide new information about why genes and environments combine to influence|antisocial behaviour, to identify children who are most likely to be affected by early experiences of harsh, non-supportive|parenting, and to identify modifiable risk factors for childhood antisocial behaviour that could become the targets of|psychosocial or pharmacological interventions.|


10 25 50