Just how happy is the happy puppet? An emotion signaling and kinship theory perspective on the behavioral phenotype of children with Angelman syndrome.Med Hypotheses. 2004; 63(3):377-85.MH
The favored level of parental investment in a child may differ for genes of maternal and paternal origin in the child. This conflict can be expressed in the phenomenon of genomic imprinting that refers to situations in which the same gene is differentially expressed depending on its parent of origin. Two disorders that show the effects of genomic imprinting--both at 15q11-q13--are Angelman Syndrome (AS) which is due to the absence of expression of maternally-inherited genes and Prader-Willi syndromes (PWS) which is due to the absence of expression of paternally-inherited genes. However, although both disorders can arise from the deletion of the same genetic region, the gustatory, behavioral, and affective characteristics of AS and PWS children are remarkably distinct. Recent research inspired by kinship theory has suggested the origins of these phenotypic differences may lie in the differential investment of each parent's genome in the AS or PWS child. Specifically, it is thought that each set of parental genes have different 'ideas' regarding how the child should behave towards the mother and how much investment they should look to extract. In normal cases, the trade-off between the competing parental genomes produces a behavioral equilibrium in the child. However, in pathological instances, particularly where gene expression is one-sided, the evolved behavioral strategies favored by the contributing genome will dominate the child's behavior. To date, research in the area of genomic conflict in AS and PWS children has primarily focusing on differences in post-natal nutrition-related behaviors. The current paper extends this framework by offering an emotion and evolutionary signaling interpretation of the affective characteristics of AS children. A review of the affective characteristics of the two syndromes (PWS and AS) is presented before kinship and emotions theory are used to examine the functions that differential affect expression may serve in altering maternal investment. We expected that because the ultimate goal of paternal genes is to increase the child rearing burden of mothers, the Angelman behavioral phenotype should exhibit the emotion signaling characteristics that elicit levels of investment more consistent with paternal genetic interests. AS children display more positive, relative to negative, affect expressions (i.e. AS children laugh and smile more frequently than PWS children). In affect signaling theories, positive affect signals (i.e., smiling, laughing) have evolved to manipulate the sensory systems of receivers to increase social resources. In contrast, because the expression of some negative affects may indicate to the mother that the infant is not viable, negative affect expression is characteristically low among AS children. However, AS children may nonetheless have high levels of non-expressed anxiety because of its role in assisting the child (and its paternal genome) to maintain vigilance for changes in investment on the part of the mother. Overall, our kinship and emotion signaling analysis of AS children suggests that their global pattern of affect signaling represents one manifestation of an array of possible evolved strategies within the parental genome. Specifically, because AS exhibits the effects of paternally-inherited genes unhindered by the expression of maternally-inherited genes, the AS infant manifests a pattern of expression and non-expression that maximize maternal investment and thus paternal fitness. This theory is a significant departure from the standard but erroneous conjecture that a mother and child's inclusive fitness interests are one and the same.