Examining the link between emotional childhood abuse and social relationships in midlife: The moderating role of the oxytocin receptor gene

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17 Scopus citations


Background: A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), rs53576, of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) has been associated with fundamental aspects of social processes and behaviors. Compared to A carriers, GG individuals have enhanced social competencies and tend to elicit more positive responses from social partners. However, the G allele of the OXTR rs53576 has also been associated with greater social sensitivity. Objective: The current study examined the unique influence of emotional childhood abuse on positive and negative aspects of different types of social relationships (e.g., family, spouse/partner, and friends) in midlife and whether genetic variations of OXTR rs53576 moderated these associations. Participants and Setting: A total of 614 participants in midlife (aged 40–65), recruited for a large-scale study of Phoenix metropolitan residents (AS U Live Project), answered self-report questionnaires and provided blood samples for DNA genotyping. Methods: Hierarchical multiple regression analyses tested whether emotional childhood abuse predicted social support and strain for each relationship type and whether these potential linkages differed by OXTR genotype (GG versus AA/AG). Results: Overall, individuals with a history of emotional childhood abuse had less supportive and more strained relationships in midlife. For supportive family relationships, the effect of emotional childhood abuse was moderated by OXTR rs53576 (p < .001). Under conditions of experiencing more emotional abuse in childhood, GG individuals had more supportive family relationships in midlife compared to A carriers. Conclusions: Overall, genetic variations of OXTR rs53576 may be an important candidate in understanding the development of social functioning within the context of emotional childhood abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104151
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Emotional childhood abuse
  • Midlife
  • OXTR rs53576
  • Oxytocin receptor gene
  • Social relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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