The Socialization of Infants' State, Attention, and Affect
National Institutes of Health Grant 1 R01 HD38357
Charles M. Super1 (PI), Sara Harkness1, Dymphna C. van den Boom2, Douglas A. Granger3, and Peter C. M. Molenaar2
1Human Development & Family Studies, Storrs, CT, USA
2Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
3Department of Bio-behavioral Health, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
The general goal of this study is to expand our knowledge of the early development of state control (including arousal, attentional, and affective behaviors), especially as it is shaped by culturally specific caretaking practices. The proposal includes exploratory as well as confirmatory features, and it has both normative-descriptive and hypothesis-testing aspects. We propose to capitalize on a natural experiment created by distinct cultural patterns of parental practices in two different communities, each from an educated, economically advanced democracy: the Netherlands and the USA. Fundamental differences in cultural beliefs, their expression in daily caretaking, and some developmental consequences have been identified in our prior published research (Super, et al., 1996) and in unpublished pilot data. The current proposal is to confirm these findings and to examine further the developmental involvement of autonomic and endocrine systems. Thus in general, the present study will evaluate the hypothesis that the effects of culturally organized caretaking on reactivity and self-regulation, and the processes that underlie them, constitute an important but largely unrecognized early influence on the foundation of children's later performance at home, in school, and with peers.
There are three immediate aims of the proposed project. The first is to replicate, cross-validate, and extend with a larger sample and longitudinal design the following findings from previous cross-sectional comparisons of two Dutch and American communities: (a) the amount and diurnal patterning of sleep during infancy and early childhood differ significantly; (b) the level of arousal and distribution of attention during periods of wake, especially as related to social interaction, also differ; (c) there are corresponding differences in parental ratings of infant/child temperament, especially regarding affective regulation; and (d) parents' cultural belief systems, as expressed in discourse about children, act with directive force to create these differences by means of specific features of caretaking behavior and management of the "developmental niche."
The second immediate aim is to examine in greater detail the involvement of biologic mechanisms in the developmental pathways identified. There is an emerging consensus that overt behavior and physiological functioning are mutually influencing systems which become coordinated during development; further, there is a diverse literature suggesting that the bio-behavioral co-ordination established during sensitive periods of infancy is influential for subsequent patterns of behavior. Hence it is important to examine longitudinally the adaptation of biologic systems most closely related to the behaviors of interest, that is, the autonomic and endocrine systems. These will be indexed here by basal and dynamic features of cardiac functioning and hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis activity. With these measures, we will address a further initial finding, that (e) at least some aspects of bio-behavioral development occur with different magnitude and timing in the Dutch and US samples.
The third immediate goal is to construct a clearer understanding of diversity in normative development as constructed through cultural processes. It is increasingly recognized that expectations for development derived from a single cultural group may be misleading as general models. The usual cross-cultural contribution to this problem is an isolated comparison across vast differences in ecology and economic systems as well as culture. The contribution proposed here is expected to specify important differences in the niches of early development between two eminently Western communities, as well as document the importance of these differences for the normal development of self-regulatory systems.
The project will follow two groups of infants (60 in each community) from shortly after birth until age 2 years. Assessment procedures include parent interviews, diaries (and automated recordings) of daily activities and rest, samples of salivary cortisol at specified times of day, behavior observations in the home, parental ratings of temperament, evaluation of physiological reactivity and adaptation to developmentally appropriate challenges, and reactions to DPT inoculations. Included for these latter two procedures is monitoring of autonomic nervous system functioning (heart rate) and endocrine functioning (cortisol).
The product of this study will be new knowledge about how culturally organized environments interact over time with developing biological and behavioral systems to yield specific developmental outcomes. The results will inform current discussion about the causes of poor arousal regulation, attentional difficulty, and sleep deprivation, and their consequences for social, cognitive, and self-regulatory functioning in the preschool years.
For further information, email Charles.Super@UConn.edu
Super, C. M., Harkness, S., van Tijen, N., van der Vlugt, E., Dykstra, J., & Fintelman, M. (1996). The three R's of Dutch child rearing and the socialization of infant arousal. In S. Harkness & C. M. Super (Eds.), Parents' cultural belief systems: Their origins, expressions, and consequences. (pp. 447-466). New York: Guilford Press.