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Gene–environment interaction between peer victimization and child aggression

  • Mara Brendgen (a1), Michel Boivin (a2), Frank Vitaro (a3), Alain Girard (a3), Ginette Dionne (a2) and Daniel Pérusse (a3)...


Although peer victimization places children at serious risk for aggressive behavior, not all victimized children are aggressive. The diathesis–stress hypothesis of disease proposes that an environmental stressor such as peer victimization should to lead to maladjustment mostly in those individuals with preexisting genetic vulnerabilities. Accordingly, this study examined whether the link between peer victimization and child aggression is moderated by children's genetic risk for such behavior. Using a sample of 506 6-year-old twins, peer victimization was assessed through peer nominations and aggressive behavior was assessed through peer and teacher reports. Children's genetic risk for aggression was estimated as a function of their co-twin's aggression and the pair's zygosity. Genetic modeling showed that peer victimization is an environmentally driven variable that is unrelated to children's genetic disposition. Results also provided support for the notion of a gene–environment interaction between peer victimization and child's genetic risk for aggressive behavior, albeit only in girls. For boys, peer victimization was related to aggression regardless of the child's genetic risk for such behavior. Different socialization experiences in girls' compared to boys' peer groups may explain the different pattern of results for girls and boys.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Mara Brendgen, Department of Psychology, University of Quebec at Montreal, CP 8888, Succ. Centreville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3P8, Canada; E-mail:


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This research was made possible by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Fonds Concerté pour l'Aide à la Recherche, the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Fonds de Recherche en Santé du Québec. We thank the participating families, and the authorities and directors as well as the teachers of the participating schools. We also thank Bernadette Simoneau, Jacqueline Langlois, and Hélène Paradis for their assistance in data management and preparation, and Jocelyn Malo for coordinating the data collection.



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