Stress and emotions in a family context

Stress and emotions in a family context: a multigenerational family study


Every family faces problems, but how these problems are dealt with differs between families. Within families there are often similarities in the ways that problems are dealt with. Research has shown that certain parenting styles (e.g., very protective or harsh) run within families and are transmitted from generation to generation. How this transmission occurs is however still unclear. There are indications that the way a person handles stress and emotions plays a role in the transmission of parenting styles. For example, parenting styles influence the way children deal with stress and emotions. In turn, this can affect the way that these children will later on raise their own children.

We also know that parenting styles are not always transmitted to the next generation. Genetic and family-specific factors may affect this transmission, separate or in combination. Certain genes make people more or less sensitive to environmental influences, and these genes may hence play a role in the transmission of parenting styles. The amount of social support and family background of the partner may also impact the possible transmission of parenting styles from generation to generation.

By means of a family study, light can be shed on these factors, and we can investigate which factors protect against the transmission of problematic parenting styles in families. For screening purposes, but also to prevent and adequately interfere when parenting styles are, for example, too harsh or too passive, more knowledge is needed on the etiology and (dis)continuation of the intergenerational transmission of parenting styles across the life span.


To acquire more knowledge about the intergenerational transmission of parenting styles, this study will investigate the role of handling stress and emotions in this transmission. Within three generations the study will focus on the following aspects: genetic make-up, structure and functioning of the brain, biological reactivity, behavior, emotion recognition and regulation, family interactions, and social context. In this way we will study the mechanisms of intergenerational transmission of parenting styles. We will also investigate which factors prevent the transmission from parenting styles to the next generation. Because of its multigenerational and multidisciplinary focus, the Leiden Family lab is particularly suitable to generate this knowledge.


In this study multidisciplinary methods are used. The focus will be on regulation of stress and emotions. We will make use of questionnaires (on social support, personality, self esteem, and health), functional MRI tasks (social exclusion, processing of facial emotions), computer tasks (emotion recognition and regulation), physiological measures (i.e. DNA analyses, heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol), and interaction tasks (Family Interaction Task).

On October 5 and 6, 2012, a conference on this topic will be held entitled Abuse & Neglect across the life span in the Stadsgehoorzaal in Leiden. Well known national and international experts will give talks and clinical workshops.

Institute of Psychology
Institute of Education and Child Studies
Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing