Emotion Regulation Moderates the Risk Associated with the 5-HTT Gene and Stress in Children.

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Carrying a short allele in the serotonin transporter polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) while experiencing stressful environments is linked to elevated risk for depression. What might offset this risky combination of genes and environment? We hypothesized that individual-level factors may play a protective role. Specifically, we examined whether individuals’ ability to decrease their stress responses via effective emotion regulation may be an important moderating factor and addressed this hypothesis in a socioeconomically diverse sample of 205 children aged 9–15 years. At-risk children (short-allele carriers in high-stress contexts) exhibited more depressive symptoms than other groups. Importantly, at-risk children who used effective emotion regulation did not exhibit increased depressive symptoms. These results have important implications for the basic science of understanding risk and resilience: in addition to genes and environment, individuals’ agentic ability to self-regulate may need to be considered as a critical third factor. Given that emotion regulation is learnable, these results also have strong public-health implications.

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