Friendship experiences and anxiety among children : a genetically informed study
Article [Accepted Manuscript]
Is part ofJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology ; vol. 45, no 5, p. 655-667
Publisher(s)Taylor & Francis
This study examined (a) whether, in line with a gene-environment correlation (rGE), a genetic disposition for anxiety puts children at risk of having anxious friends or having no reciprocal friends; (b) to what extent these friendship experiences are related to anxiety symptoms, when controlling for sex and genetic disposition for this trait; and (c) the additive and interactive predictive links of the reciprocal best friend's anxiety symptoms and of friendship quality with children's anxiety symptoms. Using a genetically informed design based on 521 monozygotic and ic twins (264 girls; 87% of European descent) assessed in Grade 4 (M age = 10.04 years, SD = .26), anxiety symptoms and perceived friendship quality were measured with self-report questionnaires. Results indicated that, in line with rGE, children with a strong genetic disposition for anxiety were more likely to have anxious friends than nonanxious friends. Moreover, controlling for their genetic risk for anxiety, children with anxious friends showed higher levels of anxiety symptoms than children with nonanxious friends but did not differ from those without reciprocal friends. Additional analyses suggested a possible contagion of anxiety symptoms between reciprocal best friends when perceived negative features of friendship were high. These results underline the importance of teaching strategies such as problem solving that enhance friendship quality to limit the potential social contagion of anxiety symptoms.