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Studies with nonhuman primates and rodents, as well as with human children, have suggested that early separations from caregivers are often associated with changes in the functioning of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. On the basis of these findings, we designed a relational intervention that was intended to normalize HPA functioning among children in foster care. This paper presents findings from a randomized clinical trial that assessed the effectiveness of a relational intervention (Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up [ABC]) with regard to HPA functioning. The ABC intervention was intended to enhance children's ability to regulate physiology and behavior. The control intervention (Developmental Education for Families) was intended to enhance children's cognitive skills. A comparison group of children who had never been in foster care was also included. Children's cortisol production was assessed upon arrival at the lab, and 15 and 30 min following the Strange Situation. Random effects analyses of variance were performed to assess differences in initial values and change between children in the two intervention groups. Children in the ABC intervention and comparison group children showed lower initial values of cortisol than children in the treatment control group, considering arrival at lab as initial values (p < .05). Groups did not differ significantly in change over time. These results suggest that the ABC intervention is effective in helping children regulate biology in ways more characteristic of children who have not experienced early adversity.
Separate studies of rural and urban Head Start systems tested the hypothesis that an emotion-based prevention program (EBP) would accelerate the development of emotion and social competence and decrease agonistic behavior and potential precursors of psychopathology. In both studies, Head Start centers were randomly assigned to treatment and control/comparison group conditions. In Study 1 (rural community), results of hierarchical linear modeling analyses showed that compared to the control condition (Head Start as usual), EBP produced greater increases in emotion knowledge and emotion regulation and greater decreases in children's negative emotion expressions, aggression, anxious/depressed behavior, and negative peer and adult interactions. In Study 2 (inner city), compared to the established prevention program I Can Problem Solve, EBP led to greater increases in emotion knowledge, emotion regulation, positive emotion expression, and social competence. In Study 2, emotion knowledge mediated the effects of EBP on emotion regulation, and emotion competence (an aggregate of emotion knowledge and emotion regulation) mediated the effects of EBP on social competence.
Over the past decade, researchers have begun to examine how people think about and construct their knowledge of close relationships. Little agreement exists about the nature of representations of relationship knowledge, although many theorists have proposed general definitions using concepts such as relational schemas (Baldwin, 1992, 1995; Miell, 1987; Planalp, 1987), internal working models (Bowlby, 1973; Collins & Read, 1994), prototypes (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Fehr & Baldwin, 1996; Klohnen & John, 1998), lay relationship theories (Fletcher & Thomas, 1996), interpersonal schemas (Safran, 1990), interpersonal scripts (e.g., Baldwin, 1992; Stern, 1985; Tomkins, 1979), and stories (Murray & Holmes, 1994; Sternberg, 1996). While these concepts differ somewhat in their underlying assumptions about the nature of the representation (for reviews, see Baldwin, 1992, 1995; Singer & Salovey, 1991), they are similar in two respects. First, relationship representations are thought to consist of well-organized, elaborated abstract knowledge about the self, others, and the interaction between the two that is derived from direct experiences. Second, relationship representations are assumed to be organized in some hierarchical fashion, including superordinate, abstract generalizations (e.g., “My mother is loving”) at the higher levels and specific information (e.g., “She takes care of me when I'm sick”) at the lower levels (e.g., Baldwin, 1992; Planalp, 1987).
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