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Emotional cost of bullying made worse by genetic makeup, experts claim

2 August 2010
Appeared in BioNews 569

Scientists have found evidence to support a relationship between genetic make-up and emotional response to childhood bullying.

The study assessed 2,232 British children for variants of the 5-HTT (serotonin is 5-hydroxy-tryptamine) gene that encodes for a serotonin transporter. After pre-bullying problems and other risk factors were taken into account, results showed that variation in the gene moderated the development of emotional problems following bullying.

If children who were frequently bullied also carried the SS variant of the gene, they were found to be at greater risk of developing emotional problems at age twelve than were children with SL or LL variants.

The children, who were all same-sex twins, were evaluated at five and twelve years of age through interviews and checklists with parents and teachers, and their DNA samples analysed to determine which form of the gene they carried.

Professor James Hudziak, a paediatric psychiatry expert at the University of Vermont, said ‘These designs have moved us well beyond the fiery but misguided debates about nature versus nurture’.

‘We have learned that both domains affect psychopathology, exerting effects that sometimes act independently of one another and sometimes interactively, as when risk DNA variants make some children more susceptible to the onset of illness’.

The findings follow a similar study in Mexico, which found that young girls carrying the same SS variant were subject to significant stress as a result of bullying, which led the researchers to suggest that children’s genetic make-up should be taken into account in the monitoring and prevention of bullying.

The research was carried out at King’s College London and Duke University in the US, and is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Emotional Problems Caused By Bullying Could Be Linked To Genetics
Ivanhoe |  28 July 2010
Genetic link to emotional problems |  27 July 2010
Researchers find genetic link to children's emotional problems precipitated by bullying
EurekAlert! |  22 July 2010
Serotonin Transporter Gene Moderates the Development of Emotional Problems Among Children Following Bullying Victimization
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry |  31 July 2010
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