Interpersonal stress arising from relational aggression (RA)—the intentional effort to harm others via rejection and exclusion—may increase risk for depression in youth. Biological vulnerabilities related to the hormone oxytocin, which affects social behavior and stress responses, may exacerbate this risk. In a community sample of 307 youth (52% female; age range = 10–14 years), we tested whether (1) the association between RA and subsequent depressive symptoms was mediated through social problems and (2) a single nucleotide polymorphism (rs53576) in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) moderated this indirect association between RA and depression, where GG homozygotes are predicted to be more sensitive to the effects of social problems than A-allele carriers. Youth-reported RA and depressive symptoms were measured using a structured interview and a questionnaire, respectively. DNA was extracted from saliva collected with Oragene kits. Consistent with the interpersonal theory of depression, the association between relational aggression and subsequent depressive symptoms was mediated by social problems. This indirect effect was further moderated by rs53576 genotype, such that GG homozygotes showed a stronger mediation effect than A-carriers. These results suggest that rs53576 variants confer vulnerability for depression within the context of interpersonal risk factors, such that youth with the GG genotype may be particularly sensitive to the social consequences resulting from RA.
- interpersonal stress
- oxytocin receptor gene
- relational aggression
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)