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Co-regulation of physiological arousal within the caregiver–child dyad precedes later self-regulation within the individual. Despite the importance of unimpaired self-regulatory development for later adjustment outcomes, little is understood about how early co-regulatory processes can become dysregulated during early life. Aspects of caregiver behavior, such as patterns of anxious speech, may be one factor influencing infant arousal dysregulation. To address this, we made day-long, naturalistic biobehavioral recordings in home settings in caregiver–infant dyads using wearable autonomic devices and miniature microphones. We examined the association between arousal, vocalization intensity, and caregiver anxiety. We found that moments of high physiological arousal in infants were more likely to be accompanied by high caregiver arousal when caregivers had high self-reported trait anxiety. Anxious caregivers were also more likely to vocalize intensely at states of high arousal and produce intense vocalizations that occurred in clusters. High-intensity vocalizations were associated with more sustained increases in autonomic arousal for both anxious caregivers and their infants. Findings indicate that caregiver vocal behavior differs in anxious parents, cooccurs with dyadic arousal dysregulation, and could contribute to physiological arousal transmission. Implications for caregiver vocalization as an intervention target are discussed.
Contemporary theories of early development and emerging child psychopathology all posit a major, if not central role for physiological responsiveness. To understand infants’ potential risk for emergent psychopathology, consideration is needed to both autonomic reactivity and environmental contexts (e.g., parent–child interactions). The current study maps infants’ arousal during the face-to-face still-face paradigm using skin conductance (n = 255 ethnically-diverse mother–infant dyads; 52.5% girls, mean infant age = 7.4 months; SD = 0.9 months). A novel statistical approach was designed to model the potential build-up of nonlinear counter electromotive force over the course of the task. Results showed a significant increase in infants’ skin conductance between the Baseline Free-play and the Still-Face phase, and a significant decrease in skin conductance during the Reunion Play when compared to the Still-Face phase. Skin conductance during the Reunion Play phase remained significantly higher than during the Baseline Play phase; indicating that infants had not fully recovered from the mild social stressor. These results further our understanding of infant arousal during dyadic interactions, and the role of caregivers in the development of emotion regulation during infancy.
Adolescent e-cigarette use has been labeled an epidemic and alcohol use during this developmental period is associated with deleterious outcomes. Though specific temperamental dimensions have been shown to predict substance use, profiles of temperament have rarely been examined as predictors. This study examines dimensions and profiles of adolescent temperament as predictors of early use of e-cigarettes and alcohol. The sample was comprised of adolescent (62.07% female, 87.59% White, 82.76% Hispanic/Latinx)/caregiver dyads (N = 146) who completed the first two timepoints (M age at second timepoint = 16.16, SD = 0.68) of a longitudinal adolescent substance use study. Models showed parent-reported effortful control predicted protection against adolescent use of e-cigarettes, whereas adolescent report of effortful control predicted protection against alcohol use. Though dissimilar in temperamental pattern, three profiles emerged from both parent- and adolescent-report-based latent profile analysis models. Adolescents characterized by parents as displaying a Resilient profile had greater odds of e-cigarette use than those characterized by a Reserved profile, whereas adolescents who self-characterized as Mixed-type had markedly greater odds of alcohol use than those who self-characterized as Resilient. Utilization of temperamental profiles may aid in identification of particularly vulnerable subgroups of adolescents who may benefit from relevant preventative programing.
Children with conduct problems and high callous-unemotional (CP+CU) traits are characterized by dampened emotional responding, limiting their ability for affective empathy and impacting the development of prosocial behaviors. However, research documenting this dampening in young children is sparse and findings vary, with attachment-related stimuli hypothesized to ameliorate deficits in emotional responding. Here we test emotional responsiveness across various emotion-eliciting stimuli using multiple measures of emotional responsiveness (behavioral, physiological, self-reported) and attention, in young children aged 2–8 years (M age = 5.37), with CP+CU traits (CP+CU; n = 36), CPs and low CU traits (CP−CU; n = 82) and a community control sample (CC; n = 27). We found no evidence that attachment-related stimulus ameliorated deficits in emotional responding. Rather, at a group level we found a consistent pattern of reduced responding across all independent measures of responsiveness for children with CP+CU compared to the CC group. Few differences were found between CP+CU and CP−CU groups. When independent measures were standardized and included in a regression model predicting to CU trait score, higher CU traits were associated with reduced emotional responding, demonstrating the importance of multimodal measurement of emotional responsiveness when investigating the impact of CU traits in young children.
Using a multimethod, multiinformant longitudinal design, we examined associations between specific forms of positive and negative emotional reactivity at age 5, children’s effortful control (EC), emotion regulation, and social skills at age 7, and adolescent functioning across psychological, academic, and physical health domains at ages 15/16 (N = 383). We examined how distinct components of childhood emotional reactivity directly and indirectly predict domain-specific forms of adolescent adjustment, thereby identifying developmental pathways between specific types of emotional reactivity and adjustment above and beyond the propensity to express other forms of emotional reactivity. Age 5 high-intensity positivity was associated with lower age 7 EC and more adolescent risk-taking; age 5 low-intensity positivity was associated with better age 7 EC and adolescent cardiovascular health, providing evidence for the heterogeneity of positive emotional reactivity. Indirect effects indicated that children’s age 7 social skills partially explain several associations between age 5 fear and anger reactivity and adolescent adjustment. Moreover, age 5 anger reactivity, low-, and high-intensity positivity were associated with adolescent adjustment via age 7 EC. The findings from this interdisciplinary, long-term longitudinal study have significant implications for prevention and intervention work aiming to understand the role of emotional reactivity in the etiology of adjustment and psychopathology.
Genetic variants that regulate hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis function have been demonstrated to moderate the association between parenting and mental health. However, extant research has focused primarily on (i) effects of individual genes or (ii) maternal as opposed to paternal parenting. Using a multilocus genetic profile score (MGPS) approach, the current study is the first to examine the moderation effect of multilocus HPA-axis related genetic variants on the association of both maternal and paternal parenting with adolescent internalizing and externalizing symptoms. In a sample of 772 Chinese Han adolescents (Mage = 16.48 ± 1.40 years; 50.1% girls), a theory-driven MGPS was calculated using six polymorphisms within HPA-axis related genes (CRHR1, NR3C1, NR3C2, FKBP5, COMT, and HT1RA). Results showed that the MGPS interacted with both maternal and paternal parenting in the association with adolescent internalizing symptoms, but not externalizing symptoms. Consistent with the differential susceptibility model, adolescents with high versus low MGPS exhibited not only more internalizing symptoms when exposed to low quality of parenting but also less internalizing symptoms when exposed to high quality of parenting. The current findings highlight the potential value of using a multilocus approach to understanding gene-by-environment interaction (G×E) effects underlying mental health. Within such G×E effects, not only maternal but also paternal parenting should be addressed.
The present study examined patterns of stability and change in loneliness across adolescence. Data were drawn from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a UK population-representative cohort of 2,232 individuals born in 1994 and 1995. Loneliness was assessed when participants were aged 12 and 18. Loneliness showed modest stability across these ages (r = .25). Behavioral genetic modeling indicated that stability in loneliness was explained largely by genetic influences (66%), while change was explained by nonshared environmental effects (58%). Individuals who reported loneliness at both ages were broadly similar to individuals who only reported it at age 18, with both groups at elevated risk of mental health problems, physical health risk behaviors, and education and employment difficulties. Individuals who were lonely only at age 12 generally fared better; however, they were still more likely to finish school with lower qualifications. Positive family influences in childhood predicted reduced risk of loneliness at age 12, while negative peer experiences increased the risk. Together, the findings show that while early adolescent loneliness does not appear to exert a cumulative burden when it persists, it is nonetheless a risk for a range of concomitant impairments, some of which can endure.
Although dyadic theory focuses on the impact of a mother’s mental health on her own child and the impact of a child’s mental health on their own mother, commonly used statistical approaches are incapable of distinguishing the desired within-dyad processes from between-dyad effects. Using autoregressive latent trajectory modeling with structured residuals, the current study evaluated within-dyad, bidirectional associations between maternal depressive symptoms and child behavior problems from child age 1–4.5 years among a sample of low-income, Mexican American women (N = 322, Mage = 27.8) and their children. Women reported on maternal depressive symptoms and child behavior problems during laboratory visits at child age 1, 1.5, 2, 3, and 4.5 years. Results provide novel evidence of child-driven bidirectional association between maternal depressive symptoms and child behavior problems at the within-dyad level as early as child age 1 year and within-person stability in child behavior problems emerging early in life.
The present study sought to unravel the psychological processes through which mass incarceration, specifically paternal incarceration, is negatively affecting the next generation of children. Data came from 4,327 families from 20 cities who participated in a 10-year longitudinal study. Parents and children reported on children’s rule-breaking behaviors and depressive symptoms when they were on average ages 5 (2003–2006), 9 (2007–2010), and 15 (2014–2017). Parental surveys and disposition information were combined to assess paternal incarceration at each age. Results showed that children who experienced paternal incarceration at age 5 also demonstrated more rule-breaking behaviors at age 15. Children’s age-9 depressive symptoms partially mediated our finding, such that children who experienced paternal incarceration at age 5 also showed greater depressive symptoms at age 9, which in turn predicted greater rule-breaking behaviors at age 15. Paternal incarceration predicted future rule-breaking behaviors more strongly than did other forms of father loss. Because we found paternal incarceration during childhood is associated with worsened adjustment into adolescence, we discussed the need for developmentally appropriate practices in the criminal justice system.
Youth in the juvenile justice system evince high rates of mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression. How these symptom profiles change after first contact with the justice system and – importantly – how they are related to re-offending remains unclear. Here, we use latent growth curve modeling to characterize univariate and multivariate growth of anxiety, depression, and re-offending in 1216 male adolescents over 5 years following their first arrest. Overall, the group showed significant linear and quadratic growth in internalizing symptoms and offending behaviors over time such that levels decreased initially after first arrest followed by a small but significant upturn occurring a few years later. Crucially, multivariate growth models revealed strong positive relationships between the rates of growth in internalizing symptoms and offending behaviors such that improvements in mental health related to greater decreases in offending, and vice versa. These results highlight the reciprocal nature of internalizing and externalizing problems in adolescence, underscoring the importance of considering mental health alongside offending in the juvenile justice system.
Unresolved states of mind regarding experiences of loss/abuse (U/d) are identified through lapses in the monitoring of reasoning, discourse, and behavior surrounding loss/abuse in response to the Adult Attachment Interview. Although the coding system for U/d has been widely used for decades, the individual indicators of unresolved loss/abuse have not been validated independently of the development sample. This study examined the psychometric validity of U/d, using individual participant data from 1,009 parent–child dyads across 13 studies. A latent class analysis showed that subsets of commonly occurring U/d indicators could differentiate interviewees with or without unresolved loss/abuse. Predictive models suggested a psychometric model of U/d consisting of a combination of these common indicators, with disbelief and psychologically confused statements regarding loss being especially important indicators of U/d. This model weakly predicted infant disorganized attachment. Multilevel regression analysis showed no significant association between ratings of unresolved other trauma and infant disorganized attachment, over and above ratings of unresolved loss/abuse. Altogether, these findings suggest that the coding system of U/d may have been overfitted to the initial development sample. Directions for further articulation and optimization of U/d are provided.
Negative emotionality (NE) was evaluated as a candidate mechanism linking prenatal maternal affective symptoms and offspring internalizing problems during the preschool/early school age period. The participants were 335 mother–infant dyads from the Maternal Adversity, Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment project. A Confirmatory Bifactor Analysis (CFA) based on self-report measures of prenatal depression and pregnancy-specific anxiety generated a general factor representing overlapping symptoms of prenatal maternal psychopathology and four distinct symptom factors representing pregnancy-specific anxiety, negative affect, anhedonia and somatization. NE was rated by the mother at 18 and 36 months. CFA based on measures of father, mother, child-rated measures and a semistructured interview generated a general internalizing factor representing overlapping symptoms of child internalizing psychopathology accounting for the unique contribution of each informant. Path analyses revealed significant relationships among the general maternal affective psychopathology, the pregnancy- specific anxiety, and the child internalizing factors. Child NE mediated only the relationship between pregnancy-specific anxiety and the child internalizing factors. We highlighted the conditions in which prenatal maternal affective symptoms predicts child internalizing problems emerging early in development, including consideration of different mechanistic pathways for different maternal prenatal symptom presentations and child temperament.
The developmental origins of psychopathology begin before birth and perhaps even prior to conception. Understanding the intergenerational transmission of psychopathological risk is critical to identify sensitive windows for prevention and early intervention. Prior research demonstrates that maternal trauma history, typically assessed retrospectively, has adverse consequences for child socioemotional development. However, very few prospective studies of preconception trauma exist, and the role of preconception symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) remains unknown. The current study prospectively evaluates whether maternal preconception PTSD symptoms predict early childhood negative affectivity, a key dimension of temperament and predictor of later psychopathology. One hundred and eighteen women were recruited following a birth and prior to conception of the study child and were followed until the study child was 3–5 years old. Higher maternal PTSD symptoms prior to conception predicted greater child negative affectivity, adjusting for concurrent maternal depressive symptoms and sociodemographic covariates. In exploratory analyses, we found that neither maternal prenatal nor postpartum depressive symptoms or perceived stress mediated this association. These findings add to a limited prospective literature, highlighting the importance of assessing the mental health of women prior to conception and providing interventions that can disrupt the intergenerational sequelae of trauma.
This study examined how youth aggressive and delinquent externalizing problem behaviors across childhood and adolescence are connected to consequential psychosocial life outcomes in adulthood. Using data from a longitudinal, high-risk sample (N = 1069) that assessed children and their parents regularly from early childhood (ages 3–5) through adulthood, multilevel growth factors of externalizing behaviors were used to predict adult outcomes (age 24–31), providing a sense of how externalizing problems across development were related to these outcomes via maternal, paternal, teacher, and child report. Findings indicated strong support for the lasting connections between youth externalizing problems with later educational attainment and legal difficulties, spanning informants and enduring beyond other meaningful contributors (i.e., child sex, cognitive ability, parental income and education, parental mental health and relationship quality). Some support was also found, although less consistently, linking externalizing problems and later alcohol use as well as romantic relationship quality. Delinquent/rule-breaking behaviors were often stronger predictors of later outcomes than aggressive behaviors. Taken together, these results indicate the importance of the role youth externalizing behaviors have in adult psychosocial functioning one to two decades later.
The current study explored dynamics of secure state attachment expectations in everyday life in middle childhood, specifically state attachment carry-over and reactivity to experiences of caregiver support in the context of stress. In two independent samples (one community sample, N = 123; one adoption sample, N = 69), children (8–12 years) daily reported on their state attachment for respectively 14 and 7 consecutive days. Additionally, they reported daily on their experiences of distress and subsequent experiences of caregiver support. Results in both samples indicated that secure state attachment on a day-to-day basis is characterized by a significant positive carry-over effect, suggesting that state attachment fluctuations are (partially) self-predictive. In Study 1, experiencing no support following distress significantly related to intraindividual decreases in secure state attachment; in Study 2, experiencing effective support during distress related to intra-individual increases in secure state attachment. Taken together, the current studies provide novel and important insights into how state attachment temporally evolves on a day-to-day basis in middle childhood.
Genetic studies of complex traits often show disparities in estimated heritability depending on the method used, whether by genomic associations or twin and family studies. We present a simulation of individual genomes with dynamic environmental conditions to consider how linear and nonlinear effects, gene-by-environment interactions, and gene-by-environment correlations may work together to govern the long-term development of complex traits and affect estimates of heritability from common methods. Our simulation studies demonstrate that the genetic effects estimated by genome wide association studies in unrelated individuals are inadequate to characterize gene-by-environment interaction, while including related individuals in genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA) allows gene-by-environment interactions to be recovered in the heritability. These theoretical findings provide an explanation for the “missing heritability” problem and bridge the conceptual gap between the most common findings of GCTA and twin studies. Future studies may use the simulation model to test hypotheses about phenotypic complexity either in an exploratory way or by replicating well-established observations of specific phenotypes.
Maternal depressive symptoms (MDS) have been linked to both child internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Theory suggests that child attachment security may be a protective factor against the negative effects of MDS. This study examined child attachment security as a buffer of the link between MDS and child internalizing and externalizing behavior problems at two time points in a predominantly African American sample. Participants included mothers (N = 164; Mage = 29.68 years; 76% African American) and their preschool-aged children (60% girls; Mage = 44.67 months) recruited from four Head Start centers in low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland. MDS were concurrently associated with child internalizing and externalizing behavior problems at both time points. No significant main effects of child attachment security on behavior problems emerged; however, child attachment moderated the association between MDS and child internalizing behavior problems at Time 2, such that MDS predicted greater child internalizing problems when attachment security was low, and the effect was attenuated when attachment security was high. No interaction emerged for child externalizing problems. Findings suggest that secure attachment in early childhood can serve as a protective factor in the context of parental risk. We discuss implications for intervention and the intergenerational transmission of psychopathology.
Perceived threat in youth’s environments can elevate risk for mental health, social, and neurocognitive difficulties throughout the lifespan. However, few studies examine variability in youth’s perceptions of threat across multiple contexts or evaluate outcomes across multiple domains, ultimately limiting our understanding of specific risks associated with perceived threats in different contexts. This study examined associations between perceived threat in youth’s neighborhood, school, and family contexts at ages 9–10 and mental health, social, and neurocognitive outcomes at ages 11–12 within a large US cohort (N = 5525) enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive DevelopmentSM Study (ABCD Study®). Latent profile analysis revealed four distinct profiles: Low Threat in all contexts, Elevated Family Threat, Elevated Neighborhood Threat, and Elevated Threat in all contexts. Mixed-effect models and post hoc pairwise comparisons showed that youth in Elevated Threat profile had poorer mental health and social outcomes 2 years later. Youth in the Elevated Family Threat profile uniquely showed increased disruptive behavior symptoms, whereas youth in the Elevated Neighborhood Threat profile predominantly displayed increased sleep problems and worse neurocognitive outcomes 2 years later. Together, findings highlight the importance of considering perceptions of threat across multiple contexts to achieve a more nuanced developmental picture.
Given the high burden of child maltreatment, there is an urgent need to know more about resilient functioning among those who have experienced maltreatment. The aims of the study were to: 1) identify distinct profiles of resilience across cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social domains in young children involved in the child welfare system; and 2) examine maltreatment characteristics and family protective factors in relation to the identified resilience profiles. A secondary analysis was conducted using data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW-II). Latent profile analysis was performed on a sample of 827 children aged 3–5 years (46% girls, Mean age = 3.96). Three distinct resilience profiles were identified: 1) low cognitive resilience (24%); 2) low emotional and behavioral resilience (20%); and 3) multidomain resilience (56%). Caregiver cognitive stimulation, no out-of-home placement, higher caregiver education level, older child age, and being a girl were associated with the multidomain resilience profile. The findings provide empirical support for the multifaceted nature of resilience and suggest that practitioners need to help children achieve optimal and balanced development by assessing, identifying, and targeting those domains in which children struggle to obtain competence.
Childhood trauma is linked to impairments in executive function and working memory, thought to underly psychological disorders including depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Research demonstrates that childhood trauma can partially mediate posttraumatic stress disorder in those with executive function deficits. Despite a link with executive function deficit, psychopathy as a consequence of trauma is yet to be studied in this context. The present study investigates the possibility of a relationship between childhood trauma, psychopathic traits, and response inhibition. Eighty participants were tasked to completed the Childhood Traumatic Events Scale (Pennebaker & Susman, 2013), Levenson’s Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (Levenson et al., 1995), and Flanker task of response inhibition (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974). Scores of trauma exposure, psychopathic traits, and reaction times in the Flanker task were measured. Regression analysis revealed no significance for trauma exposure in predicting psychopathic traits (p = .201) and response inhibition (p = .183), indicating that childhood trauma does not strongly predict susceptibility to psychopathic traits or response inhibition deficits. These findings form an important basis on which to build a further understanding of the consequences of childhood trauma exposure, specifically in terms of understanding how specific cognitive functions may be influenced and providing a clearer understanding of how psychopathic traits develop.