According to a new study presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress in Vienna, paternal aggression can influence genes and generate long-term depression. Scientists point out that assaults can actually alter the way children’s bodies read their DNA, which can increase their biological risk for the mental health condition.
“Severe parenting, with physical punishment and psychological manipulation, can introduce an additional set of instructions on how a gene is read to become connected to DNA. We have some indications that these changes may predispose the growing child to depression. This does not happen to the same extent if the children have had a supportive education,” the authors reveal.
The study does not concern any type of DNA mutation that results from the assaults. The DNA remains the same, but additional chemical groups affect how DNA instructions are read.
To arrive at this claim, the scientists analyzed two groups of children, all aged between 12 and 16, who reported growing up with either caring parents or harsh parents (a category that encompasses physical punishment, manipulative behavior and extreme rigor).
Even before the DNA analysis was performed, the team noticed that several of the children in the second group already had early signs of depression. But it was when the researchers analyzed the participants’ DNA that the effects of strict parenting became noticeable.
In practice, the team found higher levels of methylation, a process that occurs when a small chemical is added to DNA, blocking certain proteins that allow DNA to “read” genes normally. The idea is to study this relationship more and more in depth to understand how paternal aggression can lead the child or adolescent to depression in the future.