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Child and Family Development Across the First Decades of Life

Marc H. Bornstein, PhD
  • Marc H. Bornstein, PhD, Head, Child and Family Research Section
  • Charlene Hendricks, PhD, Statistician
  • Clay Mash, PhD, Psychologist
  • Diane Putnick, PhD, Statistician
  • Joan Suwalsky, MS, Research Psychologist
  • Sarah Racz, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Chun-Shin Hahn, PhD, Contractor

The Child and Family Research Section (CFRS) was established with the broad aim of investigating the ways in which human development is affected by variations in the conditions under which humans are reared. We investigate dispositional, experiential, and environmental factors that contribute to physical, mental, emotional, and social development in humans across the first three decades of life. Our research goals are to describe, analyze, and assess (i) the capabilities and proclivities of developing children and youth, including their physiological functioning, perceptual and cognitive abilities, emotional and social growth, and interactional styles; (ii) the nature and consequences of interactions within the family and the social world for offspring and parents; (iii) the consequences for development of exposure to areas of childhood vulnerability (to illness, to accidents, in risk taking); and (iv) influences on development of children's exposure to and interactions with natural and designed environments. Research topics concern the origins, status, and development of psychological constructs, structures, functions, and processes across the first three decades of life; effects of child characteristics, activities and vulnerabilities on parents; and the meaning of variations in parenting and in the family across different socio-demographic and cultural groups as well as across variations in health conditions in the child. Laboratory and home-based studies employ a variety of approaches, including psycho-physiological recordings, behavioral observations, standardized assessments, rating scales, interviews, and demographic/census records in both longitudinal and cross-sectional designs. Socio-demographic comparisons under investigation include, for example, family socio-economic status, maternal age and employment status, parenthood status (adoption, birth), child parity, and daycare experience. Our research program also investigates the developmental sequelae of cancer in infancy; children's understanding of and coping with medical experiences; parental depression and child development; development following preterm birth; the deaf culture; and behavior problems in adolescence. In addition to the United States, cultural study sites include Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, England, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Peru, and the Republic of South Korea; in all places, we pursue intra-cultural as well as cross-cultural comparisons.

To meet this multifaceted charge, we pursue two integrated multi-age, multi-variate, multi-cultural research programs that are supplemented with a variety of ancillary investigations. The research programs represent an en bloc effort. The first program is a prospective longitudinal study designed to explore multiple aspects of child development in the context of major socio-demographic comparisons. The second program broadens the perspectives of the first to encompass cultural influences on development within the same basic longitudinal framework. Our ultimate aims are to promote aware, fit, and motivated children who will grow into knowledgeable, healthy, and happy adults.

The child, the parent, and the family across the first two+ decades

Two independent prospective longitudinal studies that cumulatively spanned the age interval from 4 years to 14 years used multi-wave designs to investigate developmental associations between language and behavioral adjustment (internalizing and externalizing behavior problems). Altogether, 224 children, their mothers, and teachers provided data. Series of nested path analysis models were used to determine the most parsimonious and plausible paths among the three constructs over and above stability in each across age and their covariation at each age. In both studies, children with poorer language skills in early childhood had more internalizing behavior problems in later childhood and in early adolescence. These developmental paths between language and behavioral adjustment held after taking into consideration children’s nonverbal intellectual functioning, maternal verbal intelligence, education, parenting knowledge, and social desirability bias, as well as family socioeconomic status, and they applied equally to girls and boys. A unique longitudinal relation obtains when one intrapersonal characteristic influences another over time apart from temporal stability in each and their concurrent covariation. Such developmental paths are conservative and robust and imply that one characteristic shapes another in more than a transient way. In two independent prospective longitudinal multimethod multi-informant converging analyses, we reported such pathways between language and internalizing and externalizing behavior problems from early childhood to early adolescence. The primary questions addressed by our developmental analyses were: What are the adolescent language outcomes for young children with different levels of behavioral adjustment? What are the adolescent behavioral adjustment outcomes for young children with different levels of language skills? Two secondary questions were presumptive to these primary questions: Are language and internalizing and externalizing behavioral adjustment stable individual-difference constructs from childhood to adolescence? What are the interconnections between language and these two forms of behavioral adjustment at different time points from childhood to adolescence?

Among a community sample of families (N = 128), the study examined how family members’ shared and unique perspectives of family dysfunction relate to dyad members’ shared views of dyad adjustment within adolescent-mother, adolescent-father, and mother-father dyads. Independent of a family’s family perspective (shared perspective of family dysfunction), the adolescent’s unique perspective was associated with lower security and higher conflict with both mother and father, the father’s unique perspective was associated with lower security and higher conflict with the adolescent as well as lower marital quality with mother, and the mother's unique perspective was associated with lower marital quality with the father. Moreover, for adolescent-parent dyads, compared with the parent's unique perspective, the adolescent's unique perspective was more strongly associated with dyad adjustment. The findings indicate that both shared and unique views of the family system—the adolescent’s unique view in particular—independently relate to the health of family subsystems. They also suggest that research as well as therapeutic interventions that focus on only the shared view of the family may miss important elements of family dysfunction.

Child development and parenting in multicultural perspective

Using nationally representative samples of 45,964 2- to 9-year-old children and their primary caregivers in 17 developing countries, we sought to understand relations between children’s cognitive, language, sensory, and motor disabilities and caregivers’ use of discipline and violence. Primary caregivers reported on their child’s disabilities and whether they or anyone in their household had used nonviolent discipline, psychological aggression, or physical violence toward the target child and whether they believed that using corporal punishment is necessary. Logistic regression analyses supported the hypothesis that children with disabilities are treated more harshly than children without disabilities. The findings suggest that policies and interventions are needed to work toward the United Nations’ goals of ensuring that children with disabilities are protected from abuse and violence.

The vast majority of infants are born in poor countries, but most of our knowledge about infants and children has emerged from high-income countries. In 2003, Tomlinson and Swartz conducted a survey of articles on infancy between 1996 and 2001 from major international journals and reported that a meagre 5% of articles emanated from parts of the world other than North America, Europe, or Australasia. We conducted a similar review of articles on infancy published between 2002 and 2012 to assess whether the status of cross-national research has changed in the subsequent decade. Results indicate that, despite slight improvements in research output from the rest of world, only 2.3% of articles published in those 11 years included data from low- and middle-income countries—where 90% of the world’s infants live. The discrepancies indicate that progress is still needed to bridge the 10/90 gap in infant mental health research. Cross-national collaboration is urgently required to ensure expansion of research production in low-resource settings.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child has prompted countries to protect children from abuse and exploitation. Exposure to domestic violence and corporal punishment are risk factors in children’s development. We investigated how women’s attitudes about domestic violence are related to attitudes about corporal punishment, how their attitudes are related to harsh behaviors toward children, and whether country-wide norms regarding domestic violence and corporal punishment are related to psychological aggression and physical violence toward children. Data were drawn from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, a nationally representative and internationally comparable household survey developed by UNICEF. Measures of domestic violence and discipline were completed by 85,999 female caregivers of children between the ages of 2 and 14 years from families in 25 low- and middle-income countries. Mothers who believed that husbands were justified in hitting their wives were more likely to believe that corporal punishment is necessary to rear children. Mothers who believed that husbands were justified in hitting their wives and that corporal punishment is necessary to rear children were more likely to report that their child had experienced psychological aggression and physical violence. Country-wide norms regarding the acceptability of husbands hitting wives and the advisability of corporal punishment moderated the links between mothers’ attitudes and their behaviors toward children. Pediatricians can address parents’ psychological aggression and physical violence toward children by discussing parents’ attitudes and behaviors within a framework that incorporates social norms regarding the acceptability of domestic violence and corporal punishment.


  1. Bornstein MH, Hahn CS, Suwalsky JTD. Language and behavioral adjustment: developmental pathways from childhood to adolescence. Dev Psychopathol 2014;25:857-878.
  2. Jager J, Yuen CX, Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Hendricks C. The relations of family members’ unique and shared perspectives of family dysfunction to dyad adjustment. J Fam Psychol 2014;28:407-414.
  3. Hendricks C, Lansford JE, Deater-Deckard K, Bornstein MH. Associations between child disabilities and caregiver discipline and violence in low- and middle-income countries. Child Dev 2014;85:513-531.
  4. Tomlinson M, Bornstein MH, Marlow M, Swartz L. Imbalances in the knowledge about infant mental health in rich and poor countries: too little progress in bridging the gap. Infant Ment Health J 2014;in press.
  5. Lansford JE, Deater-Deckard K, Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Bradley RH. Attitudes justifying domestic violence predict endorsement of corporal punishment and physical and psychological aggression towards children: a study in 25 low- and middle-income countries. J Pediatr 2014;164:1208-1213.


  • Martha E. Arterberry, PhD, Colby College, Waterville, ME
  • Hiroshi Azuma, PhD, Shirayuri College, Toyko, Japan
  • Roger Bakeman, PhD, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  • Sashi K. Bali, PhD, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Erin Barker, PhD, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • Yvonne Bohr, PhD, York University, Toronto, Canada
  • Robert Bradley, PhD, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
  • Laura Caulfield, PhD, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
  • W. Andrew Collins, PhD, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • Linda Cote, PhD, Marymount University, Arlington, VA
  • Rodolfo De Castro Ribas Jr, PhD, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Annik De Houwer, PhD, Universität Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany
  • Kirby Deater-Deckard, PhD, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • Nicola De Pisapia, PhD, Scienze di Psicologia Cognitiva Applicata, Trento, Italy
  • Hirokazu Doi, PhD, Nagasaki University, Nagasaki, Japan
  • Celia Galperín, PhD, Universidad de Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Gianluca Esposito, PhD, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Saitama, Japan
  • Merideth Gattis, PhD, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
  • Michael Goldstein, PhD, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • Samuel Greiff, PhD, Institute of Cognitive Science and Assessment, Université du Luxembourg, Luxembourg
  • Derya Güngör de Bruyn, PhD, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  • David W. Haley, PhD, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
  • Justin Jager, PhD, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
  • Margaret Kabiru, PhD, Kenya Institute of Education, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Sophie Kern, PhD, Institut des Sciences de l'Homme, CNRS, Lyon, France
  • Keumjoo Kwak, PhD, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea
  • Jennifer E. Lansford, PhD, Duke University, Durham, NC
  • Emiddia Longobardi, PhD, Università La Sapienza, Rome, Italy
  • Sharone Maital, PhD, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
  • Nanmathi Manian, PhD, Westat, Inc., Rockville, MD
  • Linda Mayes, MD, Yale University, New Haven, CT
  • A. Bame Nsamenang, PhD, The Institute of Human Sciences, Bameda, Cameroon
  • Liliana Pascual, PhD, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Rebecca Pearson, PhD, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Marie-Germaine Pecheux, PhD, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France
  • David P. Pisoni, PhD, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
  • Sara Scrimin, PhD, Universitá degli Studi di Padova, Padua, Italy
  • Maria L. Seidl-de-Moura, PhD, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Vincenzo Paolo Senese, PhD, Seconda Università degli Studi di Napoli, Caserta, Italy
  • Kazuyuki Shinohara, MD, Nagasaki University, Nagasaki, Japan
  • Elizabeth Gayle Smith, PhD, Pediatric and Developmental Neuroscience Branch, NIMH, Bethesda, MD
  • Beate Sodian, PhD, Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität, Munich, Germany
  • Alan L. Stein, MBBCh, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
  • James E. Swain, MD, PhD, FRCP, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, PhD, New York University, New York, NY
  • Audrey Thurm, PhD, Pediatric and Developmental Neuroscience Branch, NIMH, Bethesda, MD
  • Sueko Toda, PhD, Nagoya University of Arts and Sciences, Nagoya, Japan
  • Miguel Vega, PhD, University of Santiago, Santiago, Chile
  • Paola Venuti, PhD, Università di Trento, Trento, Italy
  • Alice Winstanley, PhD, Cambridge University, Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Dieter Wolke, PhD, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom
  • Chen Yu, PhD, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN


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