Genetic and attachment influences on adolescents' regulation of autonomy and aggressiveness.J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2009 Nov; 50(11):1339-47.JC
Adolescence is a time when intense emotions are elicited within the parent-adolescent relationship, often when autonomy subjectively is endangered. As emotion dysregulation is one of the risk processes for the development of psychopathology, adolescence may be perceived as a highly sensitive period for maladjustment. Inter-individual differences in emotionality and emotion regulation have been shown to be influenced or moderated by molecular genetic differences in the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT) and by attachment patterns. We investigated whether both the 5-HTT and attachment are associated with emotionality and emotion regulation in an observed adolescent-mother interaction and the personality traits aggressiveness and anxiety in adolescence.
Ninety-one adolescents at age 12 were observed in interaction with their mothers during a standardized emotion-eliciting social task to assess emotionality and emotion regulation in relation to autonomy. Adolescents' aggressiveness and anxiety were assessed by mother report. Concurrent attachment quality was determined by an attachment interview. DNA samples were collected in order to assess the 5-HTTLPR, a repeat polymorphism in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene.
While the short allele of the serotonin transporter gene was associated with a higher overall rate of autonomy behaviors, attachment security was related to more agreeable and less hostile autonomy. A significant interaction revealed a moderating effect of attachment security. Carriers of the short version of the 5-HTTLPR showed more agreeable autonomy when they had a secure attachment behavior strategy but showed more hostile autonomy when they were insecurely attached. Carriers of the short version of the 5-HTTLPR and insecurely attached adolescents were rated as more aggressive.
The study suggests a gene-attachment interaction in adolescents where the adolescent's attachment status moderates a genetically based higher negative reactivity in response to threats to autonomy in social interactions.