TUESDAY, Oct. 4 (HealthDay News) ??? As scientists continue to tease out the impact of nature versus nurture, it seems that kids unlucky enough to get a “downer” personality gene can end up with sunnier outlooks when they’re parented in a warm, positive mode.
A new study on almost 1,900 children aged 9 through 15 with a gene variation predisposing them to lower serotonin levels in the brain — which can lead to a glummer predisposition — indicates the youths were more likely to keep more joyful emotions when exposed to positive parenting. So called “genetically susceptible” children who experienced unsupportive parenting showed fewer positive emotions in the three independent experiments comprising the study.
Study writer Benjamin L. Hankin, an associate professor of clinical child and developmental cognitive neuroscience psychology at the University of Denver, used a horticultural analogy of weeds versus orchids to describe how genes and upbringing join to affect children’s outcomes.
“A weed will grow everywhere,” Hankin said, “but in the event you are an orchid, you are likely more reactive and responsive to your environment. In the event you have a really negative, punishing environment, you’re probably not going to grow up to be a beautiful orchid.”
The study is published online Oct. 4 in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
In the first experiment, parents reported on the degree to which supporting or positive parenting techniques were used by them; in the second, their behaviors were found in a laboratory. In the finished experiment, the youngsters reported their particular perceptions of warm, positive parenting.
Participants all carried a shortened variant of the 5HTTLPR gene, which Hankin noted has been linked to anxiety as well as depression in prior research. As leading toward a more sensitive, reactive predisposition in this event, the gene was viewed by researchers, and the findings were the first empirical evidence that genetically susceptible individuals flourish in favorable ones and would suffer because of negative surroundings.
“What was most surprising was we found exactly the same consequence in three independent studies,” Hankin said. “There’s lots of controversy around these kinds of genetic studies because a lot of time the results do not replicate. As scientists, when something happens three times in a row, we start to believe it.”
Marta Flaum, a child psychologist in Chappaqua, N.Y., said the study highlights the value of environment in determining whether children will become happier and more successful adults.
“As science becomes more complex, we’re better in a position to identify these genetic or biologic markers and can call what’s likely to happen in kids,” she said. “We know how important early intervention is, and also this study points in a direction to assist us intervene.”
Hankin noted that most folks don’t have any idea whether their kids are predisposed by their genes toward lower brain serotonin levels, but kids who appear chronically moody are likely to be impacted.
“So in the event you are a parent, and you’ve got a child with a challenging character, your parenting matters a lot,” he said. “Being a positive parent can achieve a whole lot.”
But regardless of genetics, every kid may reap the benefits of warm, encouraging parenting, said Rahil Briggs, a child psychologist and director of the Healthy Steps Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
“Parenting is an incredibly powerful instrument for change in children, so supportive parenting is the way we should really go for any child,” Briggs said. “That holds true for all youngsters, even youngsters who come into this world with little disability in genetics and susceptibility.”