Are You Just Like Your Parents? The Genetics of Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities

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Are You Just Like Your Parents? The Genetics of Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities

Date of Content: March 7, 2024
Written by: Jess Gayo
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD



You may know of some families that seem to excel in certain traits while others grapple with recurring challenges. The answer may lie in the phenomenon known as intergenerational transmission of qualities. This intriguing concept delves into the inheritance of not just genetic traits but also behavioral patterns, cultural values, and psychological tendencies across generations.

Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities refers to the process through which certain characteristics, behaviors, or traits are passed down from one generation to the next within families. 

These qualities can encompass a wide range of attributes, including personality traits, values, beliefs, and even predispositions to certain health conditions. While the mechanism underlying this transmission is multifaceted, both genetic and environmental factors play significant roles.

Understanding the intricacies of intergenerational transmission of qualities is crucial for elucidating patterns of human development and behavior, informing interventions aimed at promoting positive outcomes, and breaking cycles of disadvantage across generations.

Intergenerational transmission of qualities

What is the Concept of Intergenerational Transmission?

The concept of intergenerational transmission revolves around the passing down of not only genetic information but also behavioral patterns, cultural values, and psychological traits from one generation to the next. It’s based on inheriting a blend of specific genetic factors and life experiences from your ancestors, shaping who you are and how you interact with the world around you.

At the heart of this concept lies the interplay between nature and nurture. While genetics provide the blueprint for our physical and psychological makeup, environment, upbringing, and experiences further mold and refine these traits. 

Moreover, research in epigenetics, the study of how environmental factors influence gene expression via inheritable genetic modifications, has shed light on how experiences such as stress, diet, and lifestyle choices can leave molecular marks on human DNA, potentially influencing the traits passed down to future generations.

Understanding the concept of intergenerational transmission is crucial for comprehending the complex interplay between genetics and environment in shaping human behavior and development.

What Parental Qualities are Usually Passed On in Intergenerational Transmission?

Certain parental qualities tend to find their way into the genetic and environmental inheritance passed down to offspring. One of the most studied parental qualities is personality traits. Studies have shown that children often inherit certain personality traits from their parents. One study revealed that the likelihood of inheriting traits such as extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience is significantly influenced by genetic factors.

Furthermore, parenting styles play a significant role in intergenerational transmission. Parents’ approaches to discipline, communication, and nurturing can leave a lasting impact on their children’s behavior and psychological development. 

Lifestyle habits and health behaviors also demonstrate intergenerational transmission. From dietary preferences to exercise habits, children often emulate the behaviors they observe in their parents. A study found that parental dietary patterns strongly predict children’s dietary habits, highlighting the role of environmental influences in shaping lifestyle choices across generations.

Intergenerational transmission encompasses a broad spectrum of parental qualities, ranging from personality traits and parenting styles to lifestyle habits and health behaviors. By understanding the interplay between genetics and environment in transmitting these qualities, individuals gain valuable insights into how their familial background influences their daily lives and behaviors.

Is Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities Genetic?

In the center of the intergenerational transmission of various qualities is Oxytocin, aka the “Love Hormone”, which is also linked to bonding, and can affect social skills. Several studies have focused on the OXTR, the oxytocin receptor gene which is responsible for the signal transduction after binding its ligand, oxytocin. OXTR gene is expressed both centrally in the brain and within peripheral organs.

A 2019 study wanted to understand how parental qualities passed down from one generation to the next might be influenced by genes and genetic variants related to oxytocin. They studied over a thousand Finnish families, looking at how grandparents interacted with their children and how those children later interacted with their own kids. 

Interestingly, they found that certain genetic variants in oxytocin-related genes like OXTR affected how warmth and acceptance were passed down. For example, if someone had an A-allele of the OXTR gene SNP called rs53576, they were more likely to pass down emotional warmth to their own children. Similarly, having the G-allele, of OXTR SNP rs1042778 meant they were more likely to pass down acceptance.

This suggests that genes related to oxytocin might influence how sensitive people are to the quality of their relationships with their children. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

In a 2018 study, researchers wanted to understand how oxytocin, which is also linked to bonding, and certain other genes might affect parenting behaviors across three generations. They studied 115 families, including grandmothers, mothers, and infants.

They found that mothers who received overprotective parenting from their own mothers showed more rejection toward their infants if they had the A-allele of the OXTR SNP rs53576.

These mothers also had lower levels of oxytocin. On the other hand, infants who had an A-allele of another SNP, OXTR rs2254298, and whose mothers reported more rejection, had higher oxytocin levels. Interestingly, grandmothers who experienced overprotection from their own mothers showed poorer parenting styles if they had a certain allele of the OXTR rs2254298 SNP.

This study suggests that oxytocin-related genetic variants and parenting behaviors can interact to influence bonding across three generations. These findings could help us better understand the factors that contribute to healthy or problematic attachment patterns across families.

Maternal depression can also have a big impact on kids, increasing their risk of depression later on. An older 2014 study wanted to see how genetics might play a role in this. They also looked at OXTR SNP rs53576 in a study of 441 young people.  They found that having the A-allele of SNP rs53576  made a difference. If these young people also had a mom who experienced depression when they were young, they were more likely to have higher levels of depression at age 15.

To understand why this happened, researchers looked at how well these young people got along with others. They found that social problems played a part in how this genetic variant affected depression. This suggests that genetics and social skills both play a role in how depression is passed down from moms to kids.

What Other Factors Can Affect Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities?

Environmental factors wield a profound influence on the intergenerational transmission of qualities, shaping the genetic expression and behavioral patterns passed down from one generation to the next. Understanding these factors illuminates the complex interplay between nature and nurture in shaping human development.

Parenting Styles and Practices

The manner in which parents raise their children significantly impacts intergenerational transmission. Authoritative parenting, characterized by warmth, support, and reasonable discipline, has been associated with positive outcomes in children. 

Conversely, excessively authoritarian or permissive parenting styles can perpetuate negative behavioral patterns across generations. Studies have highlighted the role of parenting practices in shaping children’s behavior and psychological well-being, with implications for intergenerational transmission.

Family Dynamics and Relationships

The quality of family relationships and dynamics plays a pivotal role in intergenerational transmission. Close family bonds, healthy communication patterns, and supportive environments foster positive outcomes in children and promote the transmission of desirable qualities across generations. 

Conversely, dysfunctional family dynamics, conflict, and neglect can perpetuate negative behavioral patterns and hinder the transmission of positive qualities. Research highlights the impact of family relationships on intergenerational transmission, emphasizing the importance of nurturing supportive family environments.

Socioeconomic Status and Environmental Exposures

Socioeconomic status (SES) and environmental exposures significantly influence intergenerational transmission. Children raised in low-SES households face greater adversity and are more susceptible to environmental stressors, which can impact their developmental trajectories and perpetuate intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage. 

Moreover, exposure to environmental toxins, pollutants, and adverse neighborhood conditions can affect genetic expression and predispose individuals to health disparities across generations.

Cultural and Societal Influences

Cultural norms, values, and societal influences shape the context in which intergenerational transmission occurs. Cultural practices regarding child-rearing, education, and socialization influence the transmission of values, beliefs, and behavioral patterns across generations.

Moreover, societal factors such as discrimination, racism, and inequality can impact intergenerational transmission by shaping access to resources, opportunities, and social support networks. 

Environmental factors encompass a wide array of influences that shape intergenerational transmission, including parenting styles and practices, family dynamics and relationships, socioeconomic status and environmental exposures, and cultural and societal influences. 

By understanding the multifaceted nature of these factors, individuals and policymakers can implement targeted interventions to support positive outcomes and break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage.

What is the Difference Between Intergenerational and Transgenerational Transmission?

Intergenerational and transgenerational transmission are terms often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to distinct phenomena with different implications for genetic inheritance and behavioral patterns.

Intergenerational Transmission

Intergenerational transmission refers to the transfer of traits, behaviors, and cultural practices from parents to offspring within a single generation. This process involves the transmission of genetic information, as well as the influence of environmental factors and learned behaviors. 

For example, a child may inherit their parent’s predisposition to certain personality traits, such as extraversion or conscientiousness, through genetic inheritance. Additionally, they may adopt certain behaviors or cultural practices observed in their family environment, such as dietary preferences or communication styles.

Transgenerational Transmission

Transgenerational transmission, on the other hand, refers to the transfer of traits, behaviors, or epigenetic modifications across multiple generations. Unlike intergenerational transmission, which occurs within a single generation, transgenerational transmission involves the inheritance of traits or epigenetic changes that persist across several generations. 

One notable mechanism of transgenerational transmission is epigenetic inheritance, whereby environmental factors can induce changes affecting gene expression that are passed down to subsequent generations. 

For example, studies have shown that exposure to environmental stressors, such as famine or trauma, can lead to epigenetic modifications that are inherited by offspring and even grand-offspring, influencing their susceptibility to certain diseases or behavioral tendencies.

Key Differences

The key difference between intergenerational and transgenerational transmission lies in the timescale and scope of inheritance. Intergenerational transmission occurs within a single generation and involves the transfer of traits from parents to offspring. 

In contrast, transgenerational transmission extends across multiple generations and may involve the inheritance of epigenetic modifications or behavioral patterns that persist over time. Understanding these distinctions deepens our insight into the complex interplay between genetics, environment, and behavior across generations.

What are the Negative Aspects of Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities?

Intergenerational transmission of qualities can have both positive and negative impacts on individuals and families. While the transmission of desirable qualities such as resilience, empathy, and academic achievement can contribute to positive outcomes, certain negative aspects also warrant attention. Here are some of the negative aspects of intergenerational transmission:

Transmission of Mental Health Issues

Research has shown that mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, can be transmitted across generations. Children of parents with mental health issues are at higher risk of developing similar conditions themselves. 

A study found that the offspring of parents with depression were more likely to develop depression compared to the offspring of parents without depression, highlighting the intergenerational transmission of mental health disorders.

Reinforcement of Maladaptive Behaviors

Intergenerational transmission can perpetuate maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms within families. For example, children of parents who engage in substance abuse or aggressive behavior may learn these behaviors through observation and imitation, leading to a cycle of dysfunction across generations. Research has demonstrated the intergenerational transmission of substance abuse and its detrimental effects on familial relationships and well-being.

Inheritance of Socioeconomic Disadvantages

Intergenerational transmission can reinforce socioeconomic disparities and perpetuate cycles of poverty within families. Children born into disadvantaged environments are more likely to experience poverty, limited educational opportunities, and inadequate access to resources, perpetuating intergenerational cycles of disadvantage. Studies have documented the intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic status and its impact on economic mobility and inequality.

Transmission of Trauma

Traumatic experiences can be transmitted across generations, impacting the psychological well-being and functioning of offspring. For example, descendants of Holocaust survivors have been found to exhibit higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues, known as “transgenerational trauma.” One study highlighted the intergenerational transmission of trauma and its implications for mental health outcomes in offspring.

Risk of Interpersonal Conflict

Intergenerational transmission can contribute to patterns of conflict and dysfunction within families. Unresolved issues, communication problems, and dysfunctional coping mechanisms may be passed down from parents to children, leading to strained relationships and intergenerational discord. 

Intergenerational transmission can perpetuate positive qualities and strengths within families but it also carries the risk of transmitting negative aspects such as mental health issues, maladaptive behaviors, socioeconomic disadvantages, trauma, and interpersonal conflict. Understanding these negative aspects is crucial for breaking intergenerational cycles of dysfunction and promoting positive outcomes for future generations.

What are the Positive Aspects of Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities?

Intergenerational transmission of qualities encompasses the transfer of not only genetic traits but also learned behaviors, cultural values, and familial traditions from one generation to the next. While it can perpetuate negative aspects, such as mental health issues or socioeconomic disadvantages, it also yields numerous positive outcomes. Here are some of the positive aspects of intergenerational transmission:

Resilience and Coping Skills

One of the most notable positive aspects of intergenerational transmission is the transmission of resilience and coping skills. Families often develop effective coping mechanisms and resilience strategies in response to adversity, which are passed down from parents to children. Research has highlighted the role of parental resilience in promoting positive outcomes in children, including improved mental health and adaptive coping skills.

Cultural Traditions and Values

Intergenerational transmission fosters the preservation and transmission of cultural traditions, values, and practices within families. Cultural identity is often passed down from one generation to the next through rituals, celebrations, and storytelling. 

Studies have shown that a strong sense of cultural identity can promote resilience, mental well-being, and positive self-esteem in individuals. One study has demonstrated the positive impact of cultural identity on psychological well-being and adjustment.

Educational Attainment and Achievement

Intergenerational transmission can positively influence educational attainment and achievement within families. Parents often prioritize education and academic success, instilling a strong work ethic and value for learning in their children. 

Parental involvement in education positively predicts children’s academic achievement and educational attainment. Furthermore, children of highly educated parents are more likely to pursue higher education and achieve academic success themselves, contributing to intergenerational cycles of achievement.

Emotional Support and Nurturing Relationships

Intergenerational transmission can foster emotional support and nurturing relationships within families, promoting positive mental health and well-being. Close family bonds, supportive parenting, and secure attachment relationships contribute to emotional resilience and psychological flourishing in children. 

Values of Empathy and Compassion

Intergenerational transmission can promote the transmission of values such as empathy, compassion, and altruism within families. Parents often model prosocial behavior and teach children the importance of caring for others and giving back to their communities. A study has shown that parental modeling of prosocial behavior positively predicts children’s empathy and altruism, fostering positive social relationships and moral development.

LifeDNA’s Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities Trait Report

Unlock the secrets of your genetic blueprint with  LifeDNA’s Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities Trait Report. Discover how your family’s traits and characteristics are woven into your DNA, shaping who you are and how you navigate the world. Our scientifically-backed and comprehensive Personality and Cognition Report delves deep into the interplay between genetics and behavior, providing valuable insights into your unique genetic profile.

But that’s not all – LifeDNA offers a range of reports to help you optimize every aspect of your wellness journey. From our Wellness Report to our Vitamins and Supplements Report, Fitness Report, Sleep Report, and Skincare Report, we have you covered. With almost 200 trait reports available, you’ll gain a holistic understanding of your genetic predispositions and how they impact your daily life.

Personality plays a vital role in our overall well-being, and understanding your genetic predispositions can help you make informed decisions about your diet and lifestyle. Our reports provide personalized recommendations based on your genetic profile, empowering you to optimize your nutrition and achieve your wellness goals.

Start your wellness journey today with LifeDNA’s Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities Trait Report and unlock the secrets of your DNA. Take the first step towards a healthier, happier you – because when it comes to wellness, knowledge is power.


  • Intergenerational Transmission of Qualities refers to the passing down of characteristics, behaviors, and values from one generation to the next within families.
  • It involves the inheritance of genetic information and learned behaviors from ancestors, shaping an individual’s personality and interactions with the world.
  • Personality traits, parenting styles, lifestyle habits, and health behaviors are often inherited from parents.
  • Studies suggest that genes related to oxytocin, the love hormone, influence the quality of parent-child relationships across generations.
  • Environmental factors such as parenting styles, family dynamics, socioeconomic status, and cultural influences also play a significant role.
  • Intergenerational transmission occurs within a single generation, while transgenerational transmission extends across multiple generations.
  • Negative qualities transferred can include mental health issues, reinforcement of maladaptive behaviors, inheritance of socioeconomic disadvantages, the transmission of trauma, and the risk of interpersonal conflict.
  • Negative qualities transferred can include resilience and coping skills, preservation of cultural traditions and values, promotion of educational attainment and achievement, fostering of emotional support and nurturing relationships, and transmission of values of empathy and compassion.



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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