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Exploring the interplay of dopaminergic genotype and parental behavior in relation to executive function in early childhood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 November 2021

Daphne M. Vrantsidis*
Center for Biobehavioral Health, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH, USA
Caron A.C. Clark
Department of Educational Psychology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE, USA
Auriele Volk
Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Lauren S. Wakschlag
Department of Medical Social Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine and Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Kimberly Andrews Espy
Departments of Psychology and Biology, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, USA Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, University of Texas Health San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, USA
Sandra A. Wiebe
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Corresponding author: Daphne M. Vrantsidis, email:


Child genotype is an important biologically based individual difference conferring differential sensitivity to the effect of parental behavior. This study explored dopaminergic polygenic composite × parental behavior interactions in relation to young children’s executive function. Participants were 135 36-month-old children and their mothers drawn from a prospective cohort followed longitudinally from pregnancy. A polygenic composite was created based on the number of COMT, DAT1, DRD2, and DRD4 alleles associated with increased reward sensitivity children carried. Maternal negative reactivity and responsiveness were coded during a series of structured mother–child interactions. Executive function was operationalized as self-control and working memory/inhibitory control. Path analysis supported a polygenic composite by negative reactivity interaction for self-control. The nature of the interaction was one of diathesis-stress, such that higher negative reactivity was associated with poorer self-control for children with higher polygenic composite scores. This result suggests that children with a higher number of alleles may be more vulnerable to the negative effect of negative reactivity. Negative reactivity may increase the risk for developing behavior problems in this population via an association with poorer self-control. Due to the small sample size, these initial findings should be treated with caution until they are replicated in a larger independent sample.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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