Genetic and environmental influences of maternal psychosocial and antisocial tendencies on the development, stability, and continuity of problem behaviors in adoptees from the Texas Adoption Project: a life course investigation of risk, resilience, and vulnerability

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Ernst, Jody Lynn

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Utilizing a 30 year longitudinal investigation of 300 adoptive families, the influence of both general and specific maternal psychological functioning on the development, stability, and continuity of problem behaviors was investigated. In the first part of the investigation, biological and adoptive mothers’ scores on eight subscales from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory were investigated to discover whether general psychosocial functioning, defined as the number of elevated subscales scores, or specific subscales were related to problem behavior development during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Based on earlier findings from the Texas Adoption Project (Loehlin, Willerman, & Horn, 1982, 1987), it was predicted that birth mothers’ general psychosocial functioning would predict problem behavior development in their adopted away offspring during adolescence and adulthood, but that the adoptive mothers’ general functioning would predict behavior problems during childhood. I also predicted that the birth mothers’ specific subscales, namely the psychopathic deviate scale, would be the strongest predictor of adoptee behavior problems across the entire life span. These hypotheses were generally supported. In the second part of the investigation, the stability and continuity of problem behaviors were assessed to explore whether mean and intraindividual trends in behavior, from childhood through middle-adulthood, differ as a function of gender, adoptive status, and relative risk status. Genetic and shared environmental influences on problem behavior development and continuity were also investigated using correlations between biologically related and non-related sibling pairs. Trends in both mean behavioral stability and intra-individual continuity were found to differ between groups and genetic effects were found for the development of, but not continuity in, problem behaviors. Finally, individual and family environmental characteristics were investigated as potential risk or protective factors for two groups of adoptees that varied in the amount of genetic risk they faced for problem behavior development. Findings from the investigation highlight the necessity for using genetically informative, longitudinal samples to investigate the influence of maternal psychological functioning on the development of problem behavior. The importance of conducting analyses of the influences of genetics and environmental factors separately for males and females, as well as for Higher-Risk individuals, is also addressed.