DRD4 interacts with adverse life events in predicting maternal sensitivity via emotion regulation

Jinni Su, Esther M. Leerkes, Mairin E. Augustine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


We examined whether and how the dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) interacts with adverse life events to predict maternal sensitivity directly and indirectly via emotion regulation. The sample included 209 (106 European American, 103 African American) mothers and their children (52% female). Sensitive maternal behavior was rated and aggregated across five stress-free and stress-inducing tasks when children were about 2 years old, when mothers also retrospectively reported on their adverse life experiences and transitions throughout childhood from birth to age 20. When children were about 1 year old, mothers reported on their difficulties with emotion regulation. Results from path analysis indicated that mothers who carried the long allele of DRD4 and experienced more adverse life events were less sensitive in interactions with their children. These mothers were also more likely to have difficulties with emotion regulation, which in turn predicted lower maternal sensitivity. These effects were significant above and beyond the effects of maternal education, coherence of mind, race, or infants' DRD4 genotype, and did not vary for African American and European American mothers. Results suggest that genetic predispositions modify the effects of maternal experience of adverse life events on maternal sensitivity and that emotion regulation serves as one mechanism by which genetic factors and gene- environment interactions affect maternal behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)783-792
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • DRD4
  • Dopamine
  • Emotion regulation
  • Parenting
  • Stressful life events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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