Summary: Paternal depression can contribute to adolescent depression and behavior problems whether or not the father and child are genetically related, researchers say.
Depression and behavior problems in adolescents are on the rise, and paternal depression may contribute to that increase regardless of whether the fathers and children are genetically related, according to new research from Penn State and Michigan State.
“A lot of research focuses on depression in biologically related families,” said Jenae Neiderhiser, a co-funded faculty member and distinguished professor of psychology and human development and family studies at Penn State University.
“More information is now becoming available for adoptive families and blended families.”
Researchers examined naturally occurring variations in genetic relatedness between parents and their adolescent children in the 720 families participating in the Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development (NEAD) study, with more than half of these families having a stepparent raising children .
Mothers, fathers, and children each answered questions to measure depression symptoms, behaviors, and parent-child conflict. The researchers then examined the association between paternal depression symptoms and child behavioral symptoms in a range of models.
Neiderhiser and Alex Burt, professor of clinical sciences at Michigan State University, along with their colleagues found that paternal depression was associated with adolescent depression and adolescent behavior problems, regardless of whether the fathers and their children were genetically related.
“The results pointed directly to the environmental transmission of depression and behaviors between fathers and children,” said Burt, who has worked on projects with Neiderhiser since the early 2000s.
“In addition, we continued to see these associations in a subset of ‘patchwork’ families in which the father was biologically related to one participating child but not to the other, providing important confirmation of our findings.
“We also found that much of this effect appeared to be a function of parent-child conflict. These types of results add to the evidence that parent-child conflict plays a role as an environmental predictor of adolescent behavior.”
According to Neiderhiser, while the results were expected, they also thought the impact on child behavior and depression would be greater in genetically related parent-child pairs.
“It would be great to do more studies on stepfamilies and blended families,” she said. “They tend to be an untapped natural experiment that we could learn more from to help us unravel the effects of environmental factors and genetics on families.”
About this news from depression research
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Contact: Press Office – Penn State
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“Elucidating the origins of intergenerational transmission of psychopathology with a novel genetically informed design” by S. Alexandra Burt et al. Development & Psychopathology
Illuminating the origins of intergenerational transmission of psychopathology with a novel genetically informed design
Although it is known that parental depression is transmitted within families across generations, the etiology of this transmission remains unclear.
Our aim was to develop a novel study design capable of explicitly investigating the etiological sources of intergenerational transmission.
We specifically took advantage of naturally occurring variations in the genetic relatedness between parents and their adolescent children in the 720 families participating in the Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development (NEAD) study, of which 58.5% had a fostering stepparent (almost always a stepfather) contained.
The results pointed directly to the environmental transmission of psychopathology between fathers and children.
Paternal depression was associated with adolescent depression and adolescent behavior problems (ie, antisocial behavior, wayward behavior, and attention problems), regardless of whether fathers and their children were genetically related or not.
Furthermore, these associations persisted in a subset of “patchwork” families in which the father was biologically related to one of the children involved but not to the other, and were apparently mediated through father-child conflict.
Such findings are not only fully consistent with the environmental transmission of psychopathology across generations, but add to the existing evidence that parent-child conflict is a robust and at least partially environmental predictor of adolescent psychopathology.