Parental Neuroticism and Major Affective Disorders as Risk Factors for Children in Quebec, Canada

Epidemiological studies indicate that many people experience major affective disorders (MADs) at some time in their lives. Both genetic and nongenetic factors contribute to the development of MADs. A research team at the University of Montreal designed a longitudinal study to elucidate interactions between parental MADs and other parental characteristics as risk factors for children’s behavioral and emotional problems (Ellenbogen & Hodgins, 2004). Parents of 146 Quebec 4- to 14-year-olds were assessed with French translations of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R (SCID), the NEO-PI-R five-factor personality inventory, and other measures.

French language CBCLs were completed by parents and TRFs were completed by teachers. The Child Assessment Schedule (CAS) was administered by clinicians to assess children’s symptoms. Children whose parents obtained high neuroticism scores received significantly higher scores on the Anxious/Depressed, Withdrawn, and Social Problems syndromes of the CBCL and TRF than did children whose parents obtained lower neuroticism scores. Based on the CAS, clinicians also reported more symptoms among children whose parents obtained high neuroticism scores.

Although the children had not yet entered the age of high risk for MADs, it appeared that the children’s problems were predicted by parental neuroticism and its associated characteristics, over and above any effects of diagnosed MADs. This was true for problems assessed with the TRFs completed by teachers and the CAS completed by clinicians, as well as for problems assessed with the CBCL completed by parents. The authors concluded that “parents’ neuroticism, partly through its influence on psychosocial factors, was predictive of child social, emotional, and behavioral functioning during middle childhood . . . In contrast, indices of genetic risk for the MADs had no direct impact on child functioning” (p. 129).

Reference: Ellenbogen, M.A., & Hodgins, S. (2004). The impact of high neuroticism in parents on children’s psychosocial functioning in a population at high risk for major affective disorder: A family-environmental pathway of intergenerational risk. Development and Psychopathology, 16, 113-136.