Date of Award

12-1-2010

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

DiLalla, Lisabeth

Abstract

Self-esteem and internalizing symptoms have been found to be of great consequence throughout the lifespan, but behavioral genetic research exploring these variables in young children is lacking. Minimal research has explored the heritability of internalizing difficulties or self-esteem within preschool-aged children, and no studies have done so while also considering parenting behaviors. Thus, the present study investigated the heritability of self-esteem and internalizing symptoms and examined the relations between self-esteem, internalizing symptoms, and parenting behaviors within preschool-aged twins. Data were collected from 61 twin pairs at the ages of 4 and 5. Parenting behavior data were obtained from parent-child interactions that took place in a lab setting when the twins were 4 years old. At age 5, twins were administered a self-report measure of self-esteem and parents completed a measure of internalizing symptoms. Results indicated that internalizing symptoms were significantly heritable but self-esteem was not, although there was some support for the presence of budding genetic influences for self-esteem. Self-esteem and internalizing symptoms were significantly positively related within one sub-sample of twins and were not significantly correlated within the replication sub-sample. Interestingly, self-esteem and internalizing symptoms were not significant predictors of each other above and beyond genetic influences. Parenting behavior was not significantly related to either self-esteem or internalizing symptoms. Results showed that children who over-rated their peer-related competence tended to have more internalizing symptoms than those who under-rated or realistically rated themselves in this domain. Findings demonstrate that genes are important to consider when investigating internalizing symptoms and self-esteem in this age group. Also, although little support was found for the importance of self-esteem accuracy in children's internalizing symptoms, more research is necessary to understand it.

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