Decades of research supports the presence of significant genetic influences on children’s internalizing (emotional), externalizing (acting out), and social difficulties, including victimization. Additionally, being victimized has been shown to relate to further behavioral problems. The current study assessed the nature of the gene-environment relationships between the DRD4 gene, peer victimization, and externalizing and internalizing difficulties in 6- to 10-year- old children. 174 children (56% girls; 88.6% Caucasian, 3.4% African American, 8% mixed race or Mayan) and their parents were administered victimization and problem behavior questionnaires, and DRD4 was genotyped for the children. An interaction between genes (DRD4) and environment (victimization) was significant and supported the differential susceptibility model for verbal victimization and child-reported externalizing behaviors. Children with the DRD4 7-repeat allele were differentially responsive to the verbal victimization environment, such that those experiencing little to no victimization reported significantly lower levels of externalizing behaviors, but if they experienced high amounts of victimization, they reported the highest levels of externalizing behaviors. Thus, consideration of how genes and environment affect children’s experiences of victimization prior to adolescence is essential for understanding the trajectory of both externalizing and internalizing behaviors during adolescent development.

Available for download on Thursday, August 18, 2016