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Happy Kids a Product of Genes, Parenting, Study Finds
Date:10/4/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 4 (HealthDay News) -- As scientists continue to tease out the impact of nature versus nurture, it appears that kids unlucky enough to get a "downer" personality gene can end up with sunnier outlooks when they're parented in a warm, positive manner.

A new study on nearly 1,900 children aged 9 through 15 with a gene variation predisposing them to lower serotonin levels in the brain -- which can lead to a gloomier disposition -- suggests the youths were more likely to maintain happier emotions when exposed to positive parenting. So-called "genetically susceptible" children who experienced unsupportive parenting showed fewer positive emotions in the three independent experiments comprising the study.

Study author Benjamin L. Hankin, an associate professor of clinical child and developmental cognitive neuroscience psychology at the University of Denver, used a horticultural analogy of weeds versus orchids to describe how genes and upbringing combine to affect children's outcomes.

"A weed will grow anywhere," Hankin said, "but if you're an orchid, you're probably more reactive and responsive to your environment. If you have a really negative, punishing environment, you're probably not going to grow up to be a beautiful orchid."

The study is published online Oct. 4 in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

In the first experiment, parents reported on the degree to which they used positive or supportive parenting techniques; in the second, their behaviors were observed in a laboratory. In the final experiment, the children reported their own perceptions of warm, positive parenting.

Participants all carried a shortened version of the 5-HTTLPR gene, which Hankin noted has been linked in prior research to anxiety and depression. In this case, researchers viewed the gene as leading toward a more sensitive, reactive disposition, and the find
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