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Intergenerational transmission of risk for social inhibition: The interplay between parental responsiveness and genetic influences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2013

Misaki N. Natsuaki*
University of California, Riverside
Leslie D. Leve
Oregon Social Learning Center
Jenae M. Neiderhiser
Pennsylvania State University
Daniel S. Shaw
University of Pittsburgh
Laura V. Scaramella
University of New Orleans
Xiaojia Ge
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
David Reiss
Yale Child Study Center
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Misaki N. Natsuaki, Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521; E-mail:


To better understand mechanisms underlying the intergenerational transmission of social anxiety, we used a prospective adoption design to examine the roles of genetic influences (inferred from birth mothers' social phobia) and rearing environment (adoptive mothers' and fathers' responsiveness) on the development of socially inhibited, anxious behaviors in children between 18 and 27 months of age. The sample consisted of 275 adoption-linked families, each including an adopted child, adoptive parents, and a birth mother. Results indicated that children whose birth mothers met criteria for the diagnosis of social phobia showed elevated levels of observed behavioral inhibition in a social situation at 27 months of age if their adoptive mothers provided less emotionally and verbally responsive rearing environments at 18 months of age. Conversely, in the context of higher levels of maternal responsiveness, children of birth mothers with a history of social phobia did not show elevated levels of behavioral inhibition. These findings on maternal responsiveness were replicated in a model predicting parent reports of child social anxiety. The findings are discussed in terms of gene–environment interactions in the intergenerational transmission of social anxiety.

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