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Does childhood anxiety evoke maternal control? A genetically informed study

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Despite theoretical and empirical support for an association between maternal control and child anxiety, few studies have examined the origins of this association. Furthermore, none use observer-ratings of maternal control within a genetically informative design. This study addressed three questions: 1) do children who experience maternal control report higher anxiety levels than those who do not?; 2) to what extent do genetic and environmental factors influence maternal control and child anxiety?; 3) to what extent do genetic and environmental factors influence the associations between child anxiety and maternal control? Method: 

Five hundred and thirty 8-year-old children (from 265 twin pairs) and their mothers were observed participating in an ‘etch-a-sketch’ task from which maternal control was rated. Children rated their anxiety using the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders. Results: 

Children who experienced maternal behaviour rated as ‘extreme control’ reported higher anxiety levels than those who did not. Maternal control was highly heritable (A = .63), high self-rated anxiety less so (h2g = .36). The overlap between high child anxiety and maternal control was primarily due to shared genetic factors. Conclusions: 

These results suggest that maternal control is likely to have been elicited by children with high levels of anxiety.
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Keywords: Anxiety; gene–environment correlation; maternal control; parenting; twins

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, UK

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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