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Dev Psychopathol. 2013 Feb;25(1):105-18. doi: 10.1017/S0954579412000934.

Evocative gene-environment correlation in the mother-child relationship: a twin study of interpersonal processes.

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Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.


The behavior genetic literature suggests that genetically influenced characteristics of the child elicit specific behaviors from the parent. However, little is known about the processes by which genetically influenced child characteristics evoke parental responses. Interpersonal theory provides a useful framework for identifying reciprocal behavioral processes between children and mothers. The theory posits that, at any given moment, interpersonal behavior varies along the orthogonal dimensions of warmth and control and that the interpersonal behavior of one individual tends to elicit corresponding or contrasting behavior from the other (i.e., warmth elicits warmth, whereas control elicits submission). The current study thus examined these dimensions of interpersonal behavior as they relate to the parent-child relationship in 546 twin families. A computer joystick was used to rate videos of mother-child interactions in real time, yielding information on mother and child levels of warmth and control throughout the interaction. Analyses indicated that maternal control, but not maternal warmth, was influenced by evocative gene-environment correlational processes, such that genetic influences on maternal control and child control were largely overlapping. Moreover, these common genetic influences were present both cross-sectionally and over the course of the interaction. Such findings not only confirm the presence of evocative gene-environment correlational processes in the mother-child relationship but also illuminate at least one of the specific interpersonal behaviors that underlie this evocative process.

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