University of Oulu

Dobewall, H., Keltikangas-Järvinen, L., Saarinen, A., Lyytikäinen, L. -. P., Zwir, I., Cloninger, R., Raitakari, O. T., Lehtimäki, T., & Hintsanen, M. (2021). Genetic differential susceptibility to the parent–child relationship quality and the life span development of compassion. Developmental Psychobiology, 63, e22184.

Genetic differential susceptibility to the parent–child relationship quality and the life span development of compassion

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Author: Dobewall, Henrik1,2,3; Keltikangas-Järvinen, Liisa2; Saarinen, Aino2;
Organizations: 1Division of Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
3Department of Clinical Chemistry, Fimlab Laboratories, and Finnish Cardiovascular Research Center - Tampere, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
4Finnish Cardiovascular Research Center, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
5Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, United States
6Department of Computer Science, University of Granada, Granada, Spain
7Centre for Population Health Research, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
8Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
9Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-10-12


The development of compassion for others might be influenced by the social experiences made during childhood and has a genetic component. No research has yet investigated whether the parent–child relationship quality interacts with genetic variation in the oxytocin and dopamine systems in predicting compassion over the life span. In the prospective Young Finns Study (N = 2099, 43.9% men), we examined the interaction between mother-reported emotional warmth and intolerance toward their child assessed in 1980 (age of participants, 3–18 years) and two established genetic risk scores for oxytocin levels and dopamine signaling activity. Dispositional compassion for others was measured with the Temperament and Character Inventory 1997, 2001, and 2012 (age of participants, 20–50 years). We found a gene–environment interaction (p = 0.031) that remained marginally significant after adjustment for multiple testing. In line with the differential susceptibility hypothesis, only participants who carry alleles associated with low dopamine signaling activity had higher levels of compassion when growing up with emotionally warm parents, whereas they had lower levels of compassion when their parents were emotionally cold. Children’s genetic variability in the dopamine system might result in plasticity to early environmental influences that have a long-lasting effect on the development of compassion. However, our findings need replication.

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Series: Developmental psychobiology
ISSN: 0012-1630
ISSN-E: 1098-2302
ISSN-L: 0012-1630
Volume: 63
Issue: 6
Article number: e22184
DOI: 10.1002/dev.22184
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 515 Psychology
516 Educational sciences
Funding: This study was supported financially by the Academy of Finland (M.H., grant number 308676). The Young Finns Study has been financially supported by the Academy of Finland: grants 286284, 134309 (Eye), 126925, 121584, 124282, 129378 (Salve), 117787 (Gendi), 41071 (Skidi), and 322098; the Social Insurance Institution of Finland; Competitive State Research Financing of the Expert Responsibility Area of Kuopio, Tampere and Turku University Hospitals (grant X51001); Juho Vainio Foundation; Paavo Nurmi Foundation; Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research; Finnish Cultural Foundation; The Sigrid Juselius Foundation; Tampere Tuberculosis Foundation; Emil Aaltonen Foundation; Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation; Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation (T.L.); Diabetes Research Foundation of Finnish Diabetes Association; EU Horizon 2020 (grant 755320 for TAXINOMISIS and grant 848146 for AITION); European Research Council (grant 742927 for MULTIEPIGEN project); Tampere University Hospital Supporting Foundation; and the Finnish Society of Clinical Chemistry (T.L.).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 308676
Detailed Information: 308676 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2021 The Authors. Developmental Psychobiology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.