The following studies have been published within the last six months and focus on child development in various aspects. Here, I try to answer some basic questions about each article to understand the picture.
- What is the research question? What are they trying to solve here?
- Why is this question important to answer?
- What was new about the study? How does it fill gaps in existing literature?
- What were some limitations of the study? What are some future directions for the study?
The impact of stress at different life stages on physical health and the buffering effects of maternal sensitivity (Farrell, Simpson, Carlson, Englund, and Sung, 2017)
- How does coder-rated stress and parenting quality assessed at different life stages predict adult health outcomes?
- Aside from the obvious question of “who wants to be stressed”, understanding these results can lead to plans of early intervention to influence better health outcomes.
- The current study fills gaps in the existing literature by addressing long terms effects of stress assessed at different life stages and high quality parenting as a protective factor.
- The study does have its limitations. Only physical health outcomes were assessed. BMI, overall self-rating of health, and number of illnesses/symptoms experienced were the indicators of physical health. We definitely need to focus on the mental experiences as well, since our mental health has been shown time and time again to drive our physical well-being. Also, the parenting factors were only assessed in mothers. What would happen if we studied single fathers or gay male couples where a mother is absent?
Exposure to multiple languages enhances communication in childhood (Liberman, Woodward, Keysar, and Kinzler, 2017)
- Could the social experiences provided by a multilingual environment impact communication abilities of children as early as infancy?
- If we see that children are showing more ability at certain life stages, we can implement ways of incorporating other languages into children’s upbringing.
- This study extends the finding of a prior study (Fan et al. 2015) that found an advantage in children who were exposed to another language over monolingual children using a similar task. That study, however, obtained data from participants 4-6 years old. This study is novel in that it demonstrated the perspective taking advantage emerging as early as two years old.
- Executive functioning was not measured prior and children’s inhibitory abilities could be accountable for their performance. Amount of exposure to language was self-reported, maybe there is some correlation. Maybe in the future this can be done with younger children to find if the perspective taking advantage is actually evident at a younger age.
Trust matters: Seeing how an adult treats another person influences preschoolers’ willingness to delay gratification (Michaelson and Munakata, 2016)
- Does social trust play a role in children’s willingness to delay gratification?
- Delay of gratification is associated with discipline and may predict various indices of success in life. If social trust functions as a component of discipline, we want to see what the relationship is in order to benefit future outcomes.
- Previous studies have been done showing that children’s delayed gratification can be influenced by an adult’s reward reliability. This study, however, builds on that and is the first study to show that social trust is a factor in infants’ delayed gratification.
- Limitations? Yes. In the materials and procedures it’s mentioned that the children did a “warming up” exercise. What exactly does this consist of? How would these results be affected if the experimenter is not the same person in the lying condition? Would the child be as reluctant to trust a new experimenter since it hasn’t observed their individual actions?
Understanding the genetic and environmental specificity and overlap between well-being and internalizing symptoms in adolescence (Haworth, Carter, Eley, and Plomin, 2017)
- The goal of the study was to assess genetic and environmental factors on well-being and internalization of emotions in adolescents. Where is the overlap?
- This is an important study because it clues us in on what we can do to help teens with depression. If we understand biologics and positive development better, interventions and prevention methods can be utilized to help adolescents avoid emotional crises.
- The study is novel in several aspects. First, it utilized a large sample size (4700 pairs) of twins which may imply higher validity. These participants came from the Twins Early Development Study in the UK. Secondly, this is the first study in which the results suggested that “life satisfaction has stronger genetic links with depression than happiness does.”
- The study is not without its limitations. As with all twin design studies, there are limitations on what connections can be made between genetics and environmental factors. There may have also been some bias since the same person rating internalization of symptoms also rated well-being.
Sleep problems in childhood and Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms in early adolescence (Lereya, Winsper, Tang, Wolke, 2017)
- The study aimed to find if nightmares and troubles sleeping in early childhood predate symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in adolescents.
- BPD is a disorder that interferes with an individual’s ability to function successfully within a given society. If some correlation is found, new techniques can be implemented in childhood to prevent later symptoms. Maybe these techniques will include ways for children to get the sleep they need.
- No studies (to the author’s knowledge) have been done examining sleeping problems as a possible precursor to BPD. A correlation was indeed found where “persistent nightmares remained a significant predictor of BPD symptoms…”
- One limitation of the study was the reliance on reports from caregivers. Children were also not assessed for PTSD, which could be an initial reason they have nightmares. Selective attrition also limited generalizability of the study. Future directions for this study include pulling medical records for participants and doing sleep studies in laboratories.
Farrell, A. K., Simpson, J. A., Carlson, E. A., Englund, M. M., & Sung, S. (2017). The impact of stress at different life stages on physical health and the buffering effects of maternal sensitivity. Health Psychology, 36(1), 35-44. doi:10.1037/hea0000424
Michaelson, L. E. and Munakata, Y. (2016), Trust matters: Seeing how an adult treats another person influences preschoolers’ willingness to delay gratification. Dev Sci, 19: 1011–1019. doi:10.1111/desc.12388
Haworth, C. M., Carter, K., Eley, T. C., & Plomin, R. (2015). Understanding the genetic and environmental specificity and overlap between well‐being and internalizing symptoms in adolescence. Developmental Science, doi:10.1111/desc.12376
Lereya, S. T., Winsper, C., Tang, N. Y., & Wolke, D. (2017). Sleep problems in childhood and Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms in early adolescence. Journal Of Abnormal Child Psychology, 45(1), 193-206. doi:10.1007/s10802-016-0158-4