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National Institutes of Health

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

2016 Annual Report of the Division of Intramural Research

Child and Family Development Across the First Three Decades

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

The Child and Family Research (CFR) Section investigates dispositional, experiential, and environmental factors that contribute to physical, mental, emotional, and social development in human beings across the first three decades of life. The research goals of the CFR are to describe, analyze, and assess (1) the capabilities and proclivities of developing children and youth, including their physiological functioning, perceptual and cognitive abilities, emotional and social growth, and interactional styles; (2) the nature and consequences of interactions within the family and the social world for offspring and parents; and (3) influences on development of children's exposure to and interactions with the natural and designed environments.

The CFR pursues two integrated multi-age, multi-informant, multi-variate, and multi-cultural research programs that are supplemented by a variety of ancillary investigations. The research programs represent an en bloc effort. The first includes a prospective longitudinal study designed to explore several aspects of child development in the context of major socio-demographic comparisons. As a part of this program, investigations in developmental neuroscience (cardiac function and EEG in psychological development; eye-tracking, perception, and cognition; and categorization) and behavioral pediatrics (developmental sequelae of cancer in infancy; children's understanding and coping with medical experiences; parental depression, preterm birth, deaf culture and child development; and behavior problems in adolescence) are carried out, addressing questions at the interface of child development, biology, and health.

The second CFR program broadens the perspectives of the first to encompass cultural influences on development within the same basic longitudinal framework. Cultural study sites include Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, England, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Peru, and the Republic of South Korea, as well as the United States; in all places, intra-cultural as well as cross-cultural comparisons are pursued. In this effort, the CFR collaborates with the Parenting Across Cultures project, which studies 8- to-16-year-olds and their families longitudinally in 11 cultural groups in nine countries and makes use of the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of about 50 low- and middle-income countries globally. Overall, CFR 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 and activities on parents; and the meaning of variations in parenting and in the family across a wide variety of socio-demographic and cultural groups. The ultimate aims of both CFR research programs are to promote aware, fit, and motivated children who will, it is hoped, eventually grow into knowledgeable, healthy, happy, and productive adults.

The child, the parent, and the family across the first three decades

Command of language is a cornerstone of development and necessary for successful adjustment. A four-wave 10-year prospective longitudinal study evaluated stability of core language skill in 1,780 children in varying categories of biological and social risk. Structural equation modeling supported loadings of diverse measures of child language on single latent variables of core language skill at 15 and 25 months and 5 and 11 years. Core language skill was stable over the first decade of life; we obtained significant and comparable stability coefficients for children with diverse biological and social risks, including poor health, welfare status, teen motherhood, ethnicity, gender, birth order, and families that changed in income and maternal education over the study period; stability in language was strong, even accounting for child nonverbal intelligence and social competence, maternal education and language, and the family home environment.

Separation from parents in adolescence is normative and a prerequisite for healthy functioning in adulthood, while adolescent detachment from parents, a radical and developmentally premature emotional distancing, is linked to unhealthy functioning in adulthood. Peer relationships may play a role in how adolescents separate and/or detach from their parents. Using a latent variable approach, we examined how, among 190 14-year-olds, adolescents’ separation and detachment from mother related to adolescent peer relationships and whether peer relationships moderated how separation and detachment related to adolescent internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Detachment from parents was associated with less positive peer relationships and more internalizing and externalizing problems. Positive peer relationships sharply attenuated relations between detachment and higher internalizing and externalizing problems. Healthy separation from parents was unrelated to peer relationships, internalizing, and externalizing. Our findings indicate that peers are an important but often unavailable resource for detached adolescents.

Temperament in infancy, defined as individual differences in attentional, motor, and emotional reactivity, is expected to remain relatively constant over development, although it can change in response to the environment. Two studies focused on the child’s first year and considered infant age, gender, birth order, term status, and socio-economic status (SES) as moderators of temperament stability. Study 1 consisted of 73 mothers of firstborn term girls and boys at 2, 5, and 13 months of age. Study 2 consisted of 335 mothers of infants of different gender, birth order, term status, and SES at 6 and 12 months. At all time-points across both studies, different aspects of temperament organized into positive and negative affectivity factors. Infant temperament proved stable and robust across gender, birth order, term status, and SES. Stability coefficients for temperament factors and scales were medium to large for shorter (less than nine-month) inter-assessment intervals and small to medium for longer (greater than 10-month) intervals. However, the range of shared variance in average stability between adjacent time-points across both studies was only 20–29%, suggesting that 71–80% of the variance in temperament at a later time point was not explained by temperament at an earlier time point, thus indicating a great deal of instability in temperament. Interventions to adjust infant temperament could be beneficial because temperament affects children’s interactions with the world, colors how they interpret their experiences, shapes how they compare themselves with others, and the manner in which others perceive and respond to them.

Child development and parenting in multicultural perspective

UNICEF estimates that one in six children aged 5–14 years is involved in child labor. Child labor may be a barrier to achieving universal education because poor families need children to work, which prevents school attendance. However, the empirical link between child labor and schooling has been incompletely documented. We explored relations of child labor with school enrollment in 186,795 7- to 14-year-old children in 30 low- and middle-income countries. We controlled for child age and caregiver education and examined moderating effects of country and child gender. At the country level, a strong significant relation emerged between child labor and school enrollment. Relations between child labor and schooling at the country level are suggestive, but they do not help to explain whether child labor is consistently related to schooling at the family level. Aggregating across boys and girls at the family level, child labor was associated with a lower probability of school enrollment in 15 countries. Although most countries in this study have policies to provide free education, their implementation may be incomplete because of inadequate funding, infrastructure, and availability of qualified teachers. Programs to promote universal education and reduce child labor in each country will likely need to be tailored to specific country, neighborhood, and family conditions.

Adult appropriate responding to infant signals is vital to healthy child development. We investigated how infant crying, compared with infant laughing or adult crying, captures adults’ brain resources in a sample of nulliparous women and men, e.g., the effects of different sounds on cerebral activation of the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex of the default mode network (DMN) and reaction times (RTs) while listeners engaged in self-referential decision and syllabic counting tasks, which, respectively, require the activation or deactivation of the DMN. In women, infant crying deactivated the DMN during the self-referential decision task; in men, female adult crying interfered with the DMN during the syllabic counting task. The findings point to different brain processes underlying responsiveness to crying in women and men and show that cerebral activation is modulated by situational contexts in which crying occurs.

For decades, the United Nations has recognized that physical growth and survival of young girls and boys in developing countries are compromised, although the role that gender plays in growth outcomes and mortality remains unclear. We assessed differences between girls and boys in growth in 139,614 children under age five, and child mortality of girls and boys collected from 226,798 childbearing women between the ages of 15 and 49 in 34 developing countries. Where there were gender differences in height for age (stunting), weight for age (underweight), weight for height (wasting), and mortality, boys were at a greater disadvantage than girls. Further, correlations of gender effect sizes with the HDI (Human Development Index) indicated that boys were at a greater disadvantage than girls in countries with fewer socioeconomic resources. In sum, the disadvantages in growth and mortality found for boys reflect known biological/genetic differences in susceptibility to environmental conditions. The genetic advantage present for girls tends to be less protective with respect to health conditions that reflect transient circumstances and discretionary behavior. Achievement of Millennium Development Goals pertaining to child health and equity will require continued efforts to modernize community infrastructure and health services and increase economic well-being.

Additional Funding


  1. Jager J, Yuen CX, Putnick, DL, Hendricks, D Bornstein MH. Adolescent-peer relationships, separation and detachment from parents, and internalizing and externalizing behaviors: linkages and interactions. J Early Adolescence 2015;35:511-537.
  2. Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Garstein MA, Hahn C-S, Auestad N, O'Connor DL. Infant temperament: stability of by age, gender, birth order, term status, and socioeconomic status. Child Dev 2015;86:844-863.
  3. Rigo P, De Pisapia N, Bornstein MH, Putnick D, Serra M, Esposito G, Venuti P. Brain processes in women and men in response to emotive sounds. Soc Neurosci 2016;Epub ahead of print.
  4. Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Bradley RH, Deater-Deckard K, Lansford JE. Gender in low- and middle-income countries: introduction. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev 2016;81:1-144.
  5. Bornstein MH, Hahn CS, Putnick DL. Stability of core language skill across the first decade of life in children at biological and social risk. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2016;57(12):1434-1443.


  • Martha E. Arterberry, PhD, Colby College, Waterville, ME
  • Roger Bakeman, PhD, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  • 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
  • Linda Cote, PhD, Marymount University, Arlington, VA
  • Kirby Deater-Deckard, PhD, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • Rodolfo de Castro Ribas, Jr, PhD, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Annick De Houwer, PhD, Universität Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany
  • Nicola De Pisapia, PhD, Univesità degli Studi di Trento, Rovereto, Italy
  • Hirokazu Doi, PhD, University of Nagasaki, Nagasaki, Japan
  • Xiaoxia Du, PhD, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China
  • Gianluca Esposito, PhD, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Saitama, Japan
  • Celia Galperín, PhD, Universidad de Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Merideth Gattis, PhD, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
  • Samuel Greiff, PhD, Institute of Cognitive Science and Assessment, Luxembourg, Belgium
  • Derya Güngör, PhD, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  • Chun-Shin Hahn, PhD, Contractor
  • David W. Haley, PhD, University of Toronto Scarborough, Scarborough, Canada
  • Justin Jager, PhD, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
  • Celestine Kish, MSc, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Rockville, MD
  • Jennifer E. Lansford, PhD, Duke University, Durham, NC
  • Emiddia Longobardi, PhD, Università di Roma La Sapienza, Rome, Italy
  • Sharona Maital, PhD, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
  • Nanmathi Manian, PhD, Westat, Inc., Rockville, MD
  • A. Bame Nsamennang, 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 G. Pecheux, PhD, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France
  • Khalisa Phillips, EdM, PhD, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Rockville, MD
  • David P. Pisoni, PhD, Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, IN
  • Sara Scrimin, PhD, Università degli Studi di Padova, Padua, Italy
  • Maria Lucia Seidl-de-Moura, PhD, Universidad 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
  • Beate Sodian, PhD, Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität, Munich, Germany
  • Alan L. Stein, MBBCh, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Xueyun Su, PhD, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China
  • Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, PhD, New York University, New York, NY
  • Audrey Thurm, PhD, Pediatric and Developmental Neuroscience Branch, NIMH, Bethesda, MD
  • Miguel Vega, PhD, University of Santiago, Santiago, Chile
  • Paola Venuti, PhD, Univesità degli Studi di Trento, Rovereto, Italy
  • Dieter Wolke, PhD, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom


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