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Genetic Moderation of Early Child-Care Effects on Social Functioning Across Childhood: A Developmental Analysis


  • Jay Belsky,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of California, Davis
    2. King Abdulaziz University
    3. Birkbeck University of London
    • Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jay Belsky, Human and Community Development, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Hart Hall, Davis, CA 95616. Electronic mail may be sent to

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  • Michael Pluess

    1. Institute of Psychiatry, King's College of London
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  • The research described herein was supported by a cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; U10-HD25420). This article was the result of a collaboration of the two named authors using data collected under the direction of the NICHD network authors that has been placed in the public domain. The NICHD network of authors merits our appreciation for ensuring that these data were gathered and made available to all network authors and others who received permission to conduct scientific studies using them. The NICHD network authors, however, have no responsibility for how we have analyzed the data, the results we report, and the conclusions we draw. Special thanks is extended to Glenn Roisman for his herculean efforts in overseeing the genotyping of the sample.


Data from 508 Caucasian children in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development shows that the DRD4 (but not 5-HTTLPR) polymorphism moderates the effect of child-care quality (but not quantity or type) on caregiver-reported externalizing problems at 54 months and in kindergarten and teacher-reported social skills at kindergarten and first grade—but not thereafter. Only children carrying the 7-repeat allele proved susceptible to quality-of-care effects. The behavior–problem interactions proved more consistent with diathesis-stress than differential-susceptibility thinking, whereas the reverse was true of the social-skills' results. Finally, the discerned Gene × Environment interactions did not account for previously reported parallel ones involving difficult temperament in infancy.