Researchers say a specific gene might make parents more likely to abuse their children during tough times, according to a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The DRD2 Taq1A gene, called the "orchid/dandelion gene" by researchers who study it, is a "sensitive" one, meaning that its effects are driven by the environment. The gene controls the release of dopamine, a hormone that regulates behavior in the brain and is often associated with cocaine and other drug use.

During good times, the roughly 50 percent of the population that have this gene is actually less likely to use "harsh parenting" tactics such as spanking, slapping, shouting and threatening their children. But during the recession, researchers noticed a general uptick in harsh parenting in 20 cities nationwide. Surprisingly, that increase was driven almost exclusively by parents who had this gene.

"In bad environments, people with this gene are more likely to do impulsive, aggressive things," says Irwin Garfinkel, a Columbia University researcher and co-author of the paper.

It's called the orchid/dandelion hypothesis because like orchids, people with the gene need a specific, positive environment to thrive, Garfinkel says. "Dandelions," on the other hand, are more stoic and were better able to handle adverse economic conditions without resorting to harsh parenting. Though "dandelions" did still use harsh parenting techniques, the rate at which they did so did not increase or decrease during the recession.

Source: U.S. News and World Report
http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/08/05/a-gene-may-cause-impulsive-behavior-during-bad-economic-times