Paternal psychiatric difficulties are an important factor when considering early childhood aggressive behavior, according to a study published in European Psychiatry.
Researchers used data from 2 separate studies, the Fathers Project in the United Kingdom and the Generation R Study in the Netherlands, to investigate whether paternal antisocial personality (ASP) traits were associated with early childhood aggressive behavior and whether or not this association is influenced by the presence of maternal postpartum depressive (PPD) symptoms. In the Father’s Project, ASP traits were measured at inclusion (3 months postnatally). In the Generation R Study, ASP traits were measured at 30 weeks of pregnancy. In both studies, childhood aggression was measured using the Child Behavior Checklist/1½-5, at 2 years in the Fathers Project and at 3 years in the Generation R Study.
The study found that paternal ASP traits were consistently and positively associated with early childhood aggressive behavior consistent in magnitude with the effects of maternal PPD symptoms, although this relationship did not reach a significant level in the Father’s Project (Father’s Project: standardized b=0.12 [P =.146]; and Generation R Study: b=0.14 [P =.001]). Contrary to their expectations, researchers also documented a consistent and statistically significant negative association between paternal ASP traits and maternal PPD symptoms on childhood aggressive behavior in both studies (Father’s Project: standardized b=−0.20 [P =.020]; and Generation R Study: b=−0.09 [P =.043]), noting, “with higher paternal ASP traits the association between maternal PPD-symptoms and early childhood aggressive behaviour was less.”
The researchers note that these findings are strengthened by their consistency across 2 separate studies in different countries, each using different study populations, different measures of antisocial behavior, and different time of assessment of paternal antisocial behavior and child age. However, they also stress that they were restricted in some ways by the separate data available in each study, and could not adjust analyses for the same pathology in the other parent. In addition, they note that because ASP traits are measured differently in each study, their converging validity remains uncertain.
These findings indicate the importance of investigating paternal in addition to maternal psychiatric status when evaluating early aggressive behavior in children, especially because the 2 factors can interact in surprising ways.
Lambregste-van den Berg M P, Tiemeier H, Verhulst F C, et al. Early childhood aggressive behavior: Negative interactions with paternal antisocial behavior and maternal postpartum depressive sumptoms actoss two international cohorts. European Psychiatry. 2018;54:77-84.