Parenting style: Interaction of genes with the environment

Influence of nuture on nature

Raising a family

Parenting style seems to affect some children in a family more than others. Now scientists have shown that is in due in part to the inheritance of a gene called 5-HTT. This gene come is two versions, the short and long version and is involved in the serotonin pathway, the so-called feel good chemical. Children who inherit two copies of the short version of 5-HTT are much more susceptible to parenting styles.

The 5-HTT gene governs how well nerve cells  distribute serotonin, a chemical produced by the pineal gland in the brain which helps control mood. About 20% of individuals have two short versions, 30% two long versions and 50% inherit one of each version of the 5-HTT gene.

Children with two short versions showed much lower levels of postive emotion. However, when they had warm, nurturing parents, their happiness scores were as good as the other groups.

This correlates well with adult studies. People who inherit two copies of the long version of the 5-HTT gene were shown to be the happiest. The least happy were those who inherited the two ‘short’ versions of the gene.

Of course parents generally do not know the precise genetic make up of their child but it’s a good example of how nature and nurture combine. The right environment may make all the difference to those children who’ve fared less well in the genetic lottery.


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