For better and for worse: Genes and parenting interact to predict future behavior in romantic relationships

April S. Masarik, Rand D. Conger, M. Brent Donnellan, Michael C. Stallings, Monica J. Martin, Thomas J. Schofield, Tricia K. Neppl, Laura V. Scaramella, Andrew Smolen, Keith F. Widaman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


We tested the differential susceptibility hypothesis with respect to connections between interactions in the family of origin and subsequent behaviors with romantic partners. Focal or target participants (G2) in an ongoing longitudinal study (N = 352) were observed interacting with their parents (G1) during adolescence and again with their romantic partners in adulthood. Independent observers rated positive engagement and hostility by G1 and G2 during structured interaction tasks. We created an index for hypothesized genetic plasticity by summing G2's allelic variation for polymorphisms in 5 genes (serotonin transporter gene [linked polymorphism], 5-HTT; ankyrin repeat and kinase domain containing 1 gene/dopamine receptor D2 gene, ANKK1/DRD2; dopamine receptor D4 gene, DRD4; dopamine active transporter gene, DAT; and catechol-O-methyltransferase gene, COMT). Consistent with the differential susceptibility hypothesis, G2s exposed to more hostile and positively engaged parenting behaviors during adolescence were more hostile or positively engaged toward a romantic partner if they had higher scores on the genetic plasticity index. In short, genetic factors moderated the connection between earlier experiences in the family of origin and future romantic relationship behaviors, for better and for worse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-367
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavior
  • Differential susceptibility
  • Future behavior
  • Gene by environment interaction (GxE)
  • Parenting
  • Romantic relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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