Childhood disruptive behavioral disorders (DBD) cover a broad spectrum of issues, including oppositional/defiant behavior (ODD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder (CD). Researchers have spent much time examining the factors that contribute to these problems and have found that links exist between the family environment in which the child is raised and the genetic history of the parents. The relationship between parental adult antisocial behavior (AAB) and DBD has been explored to some extent, but has not been examined through a lens of AAB behavior versus AAB biology. In other words, the behaviors that are often exhibited by AAB parents, such as withdrawal, conflict, impulsivity, and harsh parenting, may contribute to the development of DBDs in ways that are different from the genetic factor present in children born to AAB parents. Examining the issue further, Marina A. Bornovalova of the University of South Florida recently led a study that examined several factors relating to nurture and nature in children with DBDs.
Bornovalova evaluated 1,255 families consisting of two parents and 11-year-old twins. She assessed levels of parent-child conflict, maternal warmth, paternal involvement, harsh discipline, divorce, spousal conflict, and AAB. “Results indicated that parents with AAB were more likely to engage in various forms of maladaptive parenting, to divorce, and to have conflictual marriages,” Bornovalova said. In particular, she found that the mothers with AAB had a stronger negative influence on their children than the fathers with AAB and non-AAB mothers. She also discovered that divorce significantly increased the likelihood of DBD in the children, followed closely by married couples with two AAB partners. Bornovalova believes that the strong influence of the mother in relation to the father could be due to the fact the participants were recruited from the community and, in this sample, mothers spent more time with their children than the fathers did. Regardless, the results of this study demonstrate that although nature and genetics play a role in the onset of DBDs in children born to parents with AAB, nurture seems to be a larger contributing factor and should be examined more closely.
Bornovalova, M. A., Blazei, R., Malone, S. H., McGue, M., Iacono, W. G. (2012). Disentangling the relative contribution of parental antisociality and family discord to child disruptive disorders. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028607
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