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Biological sensitivity to context as a dyadic construct: An investigation of child–parent RSA synchrony among low-SES youth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 July 2021

Assaf Oshri*
Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Program, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
Sihong Liu
Stress Neurobiology and Prevention Lab, Center for Translational Neuroscience, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, USA
Cynthia M. Suveg
Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
Margaret O’Brien Caughy
Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
Landry Goodgame Huffman
Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Program, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
Author for Correspondence: Assaf Oshri, Youth Development Institute, Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, 208 Family Science Center A, 403 Sanford Dr., Athens, GA, 30602; E-mail:


Parenting behaviors are significantly linked to youths’ behavioral adjustment, an association that is moderated by youths’ and parents’ self-regulation. The biological sensitivity to context theory suggests that respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) indexes youths’ varying susceptibility to rearing contexts. However, self-regulation in the family context is increasingly viewed as a process of “coregulation” that is biologically embedded and involves dynamic Parent×Child interactions. No research thus far has examined physiological synchrony as a dyadic biological context that may moderate associations between parenting behaviors and preadolescent adjustment. Using a two-wave sample of 101 low-socioeconomic status (SES) families (children and caretakers; mean age 10.28 years), we employed multilevel modeling to examine dyadic coregulation during a conflict task, indicated by RSA synchrony, as a moderator of the linkages between observed parenting behaviors and preadolescents’ internalizing and externalizing problems. Results showed that high dyadic RSA synchrony resulted in a multiplicative association between parenting and youth adjustment. High dyadic synchrony intensified the relations between parenting behaviors and youth behavior problems, such that in the context of high dyadic synchrony, positive and negative parenting behaviors were associated with decreased and increased behavioral problems, respectively. Parent–child dyadic RSA synchrony is discussed as a potential biomarker of biological sensitivity in youth.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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This paper is dedicated to my mentor and friend Fred A. Rogosch, who introduced me to biological sensitivity to context theory.


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