Elise Costa

Costa picture

Degrees Earned and Where From:

  • May 2014       M.A in Criminology, Law & Society- University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

Research and Teaching Interests:

  • Biosocial criminology & life-course criminology
    Research Methods, Biosocial Criminology, Pre-law

Thesis title:

  • Longitudinal examination of genetic differential susceptibility, parenting, and peers in predicting substance use among African American youths

Thesis abstract:

  • The purpose of this thesis was to examine propositions from Thornberry’s interactional theory for parenting, peers, and substance use across developmental stages of late childhood to late adolescence, while also advancing propositions about these associations by proposing and testing genetic differential susceptibility hypotheses. The genetic differential susceptibility hypothesis suggests that particular genetic alleles thought to place individuals at risk for engaging in antisocial behavior actually increase their sensitivity to social environments, both nurturing and harsh. Three waves of prospective longitudinal data (waves 2 through 4) taken from the Family and Community Health Study (FACHS) were analyzed to test hypotheses from four research questions that include 1) does structural adversity have an indirect effect on substance use through parental attachment?, 2) at which development stages do parental attachment and substance using peers have their strongest influence on substance use?, 3) is the relationship between parental attachment and substance use, and substance using peers and substance use, moderated by sensitivity alleles adolescents’ possess?,  and 4) if so, do gene X environment interactions vary from late childhood into adolescence?

The analysis sample contains genetic information on DRD4 and 5HTTLPR, as well as complete data on 467 respondents from waves 2 through 4.  Multivariate logistic regression models were estimated to predict a binary measure of substance use during mid-adolescence (waves 3) and again during late adolescence/early adulthood (wave 4). Peer substance use had the most consistent association with substance use across waves.  Parenting influences on substance use were marginal. Parent hostility measured at wave 2 exhibited a significant and positive association with wave 3 substance use. Separate interactions between a genetic sensitivity index and four parenting measures, as well as peer substance use, were non-significant. Implications for interactional theory and gene X environment research on substance use are discussed, various limitations are acknowledged, and future research directions are identified.