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Genetic Risk, Neighborhood Characteristics, and Behavioral Difficulties Among African American Adolescents Living in Very Low-Income Neighborhoods

Emma M Sterrett-Hong, Fazil Aliev, Danielle M Dick, Lisa M Hooper, Brian Mustanski

Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Behavioral difficulties among African American youth are disproportionately detrimental to their future well-being compared to when demonstrated by White American youth. The majority of gene-environment studies of behavior have been conducted with European ancestry samples, limiting our knowledge of these processes among African Americans. This study examined the influence of positive and negative neighborhood conditions, in the context of genetic risk, on behavioral difficulties among low-income African American adolescents. Data were from the Genes, Environment, and Neighborhood Initiative study of African American youth in high-poverty neighborhoods, n = 524, M age = 15.89, SD = 1.42. DNA samples were collected using the Oragene Discovery 500 series, and polygenic risk scores for behavioral difficulties computed. Neighborhood informal social control, social cohesion, physical disorder, and social disorder were assessed. Adolescent alcohol use, hyperactivity/inattention and conduct problems were examined as outcomes. After controlling for polygenic risk, lower levels of neighborhood social disorder and higher levels of social cohesion were associated with fewer youth-reported hyperactivity/inattention and conduct problems. Less social disorder also was associated with fewer parent-reported behavioral difficulties. Neighborhood characteristics did not moderate associations between genetic risk and the outcomes. Higher levels of positive and lower levels of negative neighborhood characteristics can be associated with lower levels of behavioral difficulties among African American youth living in poverty, even after taking into account genetic risk.