(HealthDay News) – Interactions between physical punishment and genetic risk during early childhood yield a significant influence on antisocial behavior, especially in males.

Brian B. Boutwell, PhD, of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and associates analyzed data for 10,700 children born in 2001 collected from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. To assess child antisocial behavior and use of corporal punishment, parents were questioned about their children’s specific behavioral indicators when the children were approximately four years old. Using a sample of 1,600 twins (~250 monozygotic), a genetic risk scale was developed.

The researchers found that corporal punishment and genetic risk both exerted significant effects on the behavioral problem scale. Children exposed to increased use of corporal punishment displayed increased behavior problems, even after controlling for genetic factors. In a second model, the effects of genetic risk on behavioral problems were moderated by use of corporal punishment, indicating an increased effect of punishment on children with greater genetic risk. For males, the genetic risk scale and corporal punishment measure both exerted significant effects on antisocial behavior, whereas for females, the interaction between genetic risk and corporal punishment was not significant for antisocial behavior.

“The use of corporal punishment may exacerbate genetic vulnerabilities in some children, thereby increasing the risk of antisocial behavior,” the authors write. “Moreover, our results suggest that this process may apply most directly to males rather than females.”

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