Early warm-rewarding parenting moderates the genetic contributions to callous–unemotional traits in childhood

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Abstract

Background

Previous gene–environment interaction studies of CU traits have relied on the candidate gene approach, which does not account for the entire genetic load of complex phenotypes. Moreover, these studies have not examined the role of positive environmental factors such as warm/rewarding parenting. The aim of the present study was to determine whether early warm/rewarding parenting moderates the genetic contributions (i.e., heritability) to callous–unemotional (CU) traits at school age.

Methods

Data were collected in a population sample of 662 twin pairs (Quebec Newborn Twin Study – QNTS). Mothers reported on their warm/rewarding parenting. Teachers assessed children's CU traits. These reports were subjected to twin modeling.

Results

Callous–unemotional traits were highly heritable, with the remaining variance accounted for by nonshared environmental factors. Warm/rewarding parenting significantly moderated the role of genes in CU traits; heritability was lower when children received high warm/rewarding parenting than when they were exposed to low warm/rewarding parenting.

Conclusions

High warm/rewarding parenting may partly impede the genetic expression of CU traits. Developmental models of CU traits need to account for such gene–environment processes.

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