Moms who had a variation in a gene called "DRD2 Taq1A genotype" were shown in a new study to be more likely to react negatively to economic changes in their environment compared to moms who didn't possess the variant.
The DRD2 Taq1A genotype has been shown to control how the body creates dopamine, a neurotransmiter that regulates behavior in the reward-based pathway in the brain.
The researchers looked at data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFS), which included almost 5,000 children born in 20 U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000. The mothers were interviewed after giving birth, and when their child was 1, 3, 5 and 9 years of age. Information on parenting behavior was gathered when the child was 3, 5 and 9 years old.
Harsh parenting was determined by the mother's score on the Conflict Tactics Scale, which included questions on five items on psychological harsh parenting -- like shouting or threatening the child -- and five more items on corporal punishment, like slapping or spanking.
Saliva DNA samples were also collected from 2,600 mothers and children when the child was nine to test for the genetic variant.
After gathering the data, the researchers took into account the economic conditions where the subjects were living, focusing on unemployment rates. They then discovered that moms who had the "sensitive" allele or variation of the DRD2 Taq1A genotype -- which they called the "T allele" -- were more abusive towards their children when the economy was bad, such as during the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Mothers without this genetic variation were no more likely to act harshly towards their children during this time.
When economic situations improved, mothers with the sensitive T allele were not as harsh compared to the other mothers.
They also discovered that high levels of unemployment among the subjects did not increase how abusive a mom was. Mothers with the T allele were more likely to be mean with their children when the economy was bad, even if they personally did not lose their job or had any personal changes because of the recession.
Instead, the overall unemployment rate of the city they lived in and their confidence in the economy played a larger role. A 10 percent increase in the overall unemployment rate was linked to a 16 percent increase in maternal harsh parenting among those with the T allele.
Image: Angry mother and daughter, via Shutterstock