Experimentally Testing the Effect of Parent-Adolescent Conflict on HIV Risk, and Investigation of a Neurobiological Moderator of This Effect

Thumbnail Image

Publication or External Link





Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a condition in which immune cells become destroyed such that the body may become unable to fight off infections. Engaging in risk-taking behaviors (e.g., substance use) puts people at heightened risk for HIV infection, with mid-to-late adolescents at increasing risk (Leigh & Stall, 1993). Environmental and neurological reasons have been suggested for increased risk-taking among adolescents. First, family-level precursors such as parent-adolescent conflict have been significantly associated with and may pose risk for engaging in substance use and risk-taking (Duncan, Duncan, Biglan, & Ary, 1998). Thus, parent-adolescent conflict may be an important proximal influence on HIV risk behaviors (Lester et al., 2010; Rowe, Wang, Greenbaum, & Liddle, 2008). Yet, the temporal relation between parent-adolescent conflict and adolescent HIV risk-taking behaviors is still unknown. Second, at-risk adolescents may carry a neurobiological predisposition for engaging in trait-like expressions of disinhibited behavior and other risk-taking behaviors (Iacono, Malone, & McGue, 2008). When exposed to interpersonally stressful situations, their likelihood of engagement in HIV risk behaviors may increase. To investigate the role of parent-adolescent conflict in adolescent HIV risk-taking behaviors, 49 adolescents ages 14-17 and their parent were randomly assigned to complete a standardized discussion task to discuss a control topic or a conflict topic. Immediately after the discussion, adolescents completed a laboratory risk-taking measure. In a follow-up visit, eligible adolescents underwent electrophysiological (EEG) recording while completing a task designed to assess the presence of a neurobiological marker for behavioral disinhibition which I hypothesized would moderate the links between conflict and risk-taking. First, findings indicated that during the discussion task, adolescents in the conflict condition evidenced a significantly greater psychophysiological stress response relative to adolescents in the control condition. Second, a neurobiological marker of behavioral disinhibition moderated the relation between discussion condition and adolescent risk-taking, such that adolescents evidencing relatively high levels of a neurobiological marker related to sensation-seeking evidenced greater levels of risk-taking following the conflict condition, relative to the control condition. Lastly, I observed no significant relation between parent-adolescent conflict, the neurobiological marker of behavioral disinhibition and adolescent engagement in real-world risk-taking behavior.