The Influence and Interplay of Family Instability and Genes on Children’s Prosocial Behavior

Colter Mitchell, Princeton University
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University
Daniel A. Notterman, Princeton University

This study examines whether the relationship between biological-parent relationship stability and children’s prosocial behavior is moderated by child’s genetic make-up. Based on biological susceptibility theory, we hypothesize that children with particular gene variants are more responsive to changes in family structure than children without such variants. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, we find that the biological father entering a residential relationship with the mother increases prosocial behaviors, and when he exits it decreases prosocial behavior. We also find strong main effects for genetic markers of serotonergic system. Further, we find that genetic markers of the serotonergic and dopaminergic systems interact with biological-father residential change to influence trajectories in children’s prosocial behaviors. Children with more reactive genotypes experience a greater benefit to their father entering the household than other children; they also experience a greater cost to their father exiting the household.

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Presented in Session 50: Genes, Biology, and Children