Development and Psychopathology

Special Section Articles

Boys' serotonin transporter genotype affects maternal behavior through self-control: A case of evocative gene–environment correlation

Roni Pener-Tesslera1, Reut Avinuna1, Florina Uzefovskya1, Shany Edelmana1, Richard P. Ebsteina2 and Ariel Knafoa1 c1

a1 Hebrew University of Jerusalem

a2 National University of Singapore


Self-control, involving processes such as delaying gratification, concentrating, planning, following instructions, and adapting emotions and behavior to situational requirements and social norms, may have a profound impact on children's adjustment. The importance of self-control suggests that parents are likely to modify their parenting based on children's ability for self-control. We study the effect of children's self-control, a trait partially molded by genetics, on their mothers' parenting, a process of evocative gene–environment correlation. Israeli 3.5-year-old twins (N = 320) participated in a lab session in which their mothers' parenting was observed. DNA was available from most children (N = 228). Mothers described children's self-control in a questionnaire. Boys were lower in self-control and received less positive parenting from their mothers, in comparison with girls. For boys, and not for girls, the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region gene predicted mothers' levels of positive parenting, an effect mediated by boys' self-control. The implications of this evocative gene–environment correlation and the observed sex differences are discussed.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Ariel Knafo, Department of Psychology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel; E-mail:


  We thank the participating mothers and children for their cooperation and Naama Gilat, Noa Gordon Assayag, and Salomon Israel for their help. The Longitudinal Israeli Study of Twins was funded by Grant 31/06 from the Israel Science Foundation. Preparation of this article was supported by Starting Grant 240994 from the European Research Council (to A.K.). The first two authors contributed equally to the preparation of this article.