Naughtiness not genetic, study shows
KIRAN CHUG - The Dominion Post
In a new study, researchers have looked at anti-social behaviour and depression in children, and found that genes alone can no longer be considered primarily responsible.
Led by the head of Otago's Centre for Research on Child and Families, Gordon Harold, the team studied the behaviour of parents and children who were naturally conceived and those conceived through in-vitro fertilisation.
Professor Harold said the idea that depression and anti-social behaviour were primarily influenced by genes passed on from parent to child had now been called into question.
The researchers found the same links between parental and child behaviour in the naturally conceived group and the IVF group – where there was no genetic link between adults and children.
From their research, they found it was either positive or negative parenting practices, and not just genes, which could be linked to children's mental health problems.
The findings had significant implications for all parents and could help them understand why some children developed behavioural problems while others did not, he said.
"Rather than blame children's behaviour solely on the genes passed on from a biological parent to a child, look at the environments that children live in."
The not-for-profit Jigsaw agency, which is a network of organisations working with children and families for better well-being, said the study proved the importance of the environment that children grow up in.
The network's strategic operations chief executive, Liz Kinley, said the research was sophisticated and carried out by a highly regarded team and "absolutely reflected" the work of its agencies.
It also highlighted the importance of early prevention in abusive environments to protect children, and also help prevent them from developing the same characteristics as their parents.
Professor Harold said the study found parents who were hostile to their children promoted increased levels of aggression in their children.
The study involved questioning the parents of 1000 four to six-year-olds from Britain and America.
It has been published in the international journal Psychological Medicine.