Parents who blame genetics alone for
their children's failings might be on shaky ground, as new
University of Otago research has pegged the onset of
depression and antisocial behaviour to a child's home
The study involved children born using in-vitro
fertilisation, comparing IVF children who were genetically
related to their parents, with those who were not.
The study examined "positive and negative" parenting, finding
negative parenting was linked to childhood aggression, and
that depression was linked to environment, although
researchers could not identify the trigger.
Prof Gordon Harold, of Dunedin, head of Otago University's
centre for research on children and families, told the Otago
Daily Times it was wrong to frame the study as discounting
the role of genes, but rather establishing that environment
was key to switching on elements of a person's genetic
He said the old nature-versus-nurture debate had moved on,
and it was now accepted both played a part in a person's
Along with researchers from Cardiff University and University
College London, Prof Harold studied 1000 families with
children aged 4 to 6 from the United Kingdom and the United
States, for a three-year period.
Prof Harold said he had been surprised IVF children had not
been used for an environmental study of its type before:
previous studies involving IVF children had been concerned
with how they fared compared with those naturally conceived.
By only using IVF children, it was possible to make
comparisons between genes and environment that were
impossible using adoptive or natural parents.
The Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom funded the study,
which has just been published in the journal Psychological
Prof Harold said the study could provide impetus for social
agencies and government policy to target specific aspects of
the home environment, early in life, to promote positive
outcomes for children.
"Rather than blame children's behaviour solely on the genes
passed on from a biological parent to a child, look at the
environments that children live in to understand better why
some children develop behavioural problems while other
children do not."