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Bidirectional genetic and environmental influences on mother and child behavior: The family system as the unit of analyses

  • W. Roger Mills-Koonce (a1), Cathi B. Propper (a1), Jean-Louis Gariepy (a1), Clancy Blair (a2), Patricia Garrett-Peters (a1) and Martha J. Cox (a1)...


Family systems theory proposes that an individual's functioning depends on interactive processes within the self and within the context of dyadic family subsystems. Previous research on these processes has focused largely on behavioral, cognitive, and psychophysiological properties of the individual and the dyad. The goals of this study were to explore genetic and environmental interactions within the family system by examining how the dopamine receptor D2 gene (DRD2) A1+ polymorphism in mothers and children relates to maternal sensitivity, how maternal and child characteristics might mediate those effects, and whether maternal sensitivity moderates the association between DRD2 A1+ and child affective problems. Evidence is found for an evocative effect of child polymorphism on parenting behavior, and for a moderating effect of child polymorphism on the association between maternal sensitivity and later child affective problems. Findings are discussed from a family systems perspective, highlighting the role of the family as a context for gene expression in both mothers and children.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Roger Mills-Koonce, Center for Developmental Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 100 East Franklin Street, CB 8115, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8115; E-mail:


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