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Aggressive behaviour in childhood and adolescence: the role of smoking during pregnancy, evidence from four twin cohorts in the EU-ACTION consortium

  • Margherita Malanchini (a1) (a2), Emily Smith-Woolley (a1), Ziada Ayorech (a1), Kaili Rimfeld (a1), Eva Krapohl (a1), Eero Vuoksimaa (a3), Tellervo Korhonen (a3), Meike Bartels (a4), Toos C.E.M. van Beijsterveldt (a4), Richard J. Rose (a5), Sebastian Lundström (a6), Henrik Anckarsäter (a6), Jaakko Kaprio (a3) (a7), Paul Lichtenstein (a8), Dorret I. Boomsma (a4) and Robert Plomin (a1)...

Abstract

Background

Maternal smoking during pregnancy (MSDP) has been linked to offspring's externalizing problems. It has been argued that socio-demographic factors (e.g. maternal age and education), co-occurring environmental risk factors, or pleiotropic genetic effects may account for the association between MSDP and later outcomes. This study provides a comprehensive investigation of the association between MSDP and a single harmonized component of externalizing: aggressive behaviour, measured throughout childhood and adolescence.

Methods

Data came from four prospective twin cohorts – Twins Early Development Study, Netherlands Twin Register, Childhood and Adolescent Twin Study of Sweden, and FinnTwin12 study – who collaborate in the EU-ACTION consortium. Data from 30 708 unrelated individuals were analysed. Based on item level data, a harmonized measure of aggression was created at ages 9–10; 12; 14–15 and 16–18.

Results

MSDP predicted aggression in childhood and adolescence. A meta-analysis across the four samples found the independent effect of MSDP to be 0.4% (r = 0.066), this remained consistent when analyses were performed separately by sex. All other perinatal factors combined explained 1.1% of the variance in aggression across all ages and samples (r = 0.112). Paternal smoking and aggressive parenting strategies did not account for the MSDP-aggression association, consistent with the hypothesis of a small direct link between MSDP and aggression.

Conclusions

Perinatal factors, including MSDP, account for a small portion of the variance in aggression in childhood and adolescence. Later experiences may play a greater role in shaping adolescents’ aggressive behaviour.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Margherita Malanchini, E-mail: m.malanchini@utexas.edu, margherita.malanchini@gmail.com

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