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National Institutes of Health

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

2017 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
  • Charlene Hendricks, PhD, Statistician
  • Diane Putnick, PhD, Statistician
  • Chun-Shin Hahn, PhD, Contractor
  • Jing Yu, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

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, the CFR carries out investigations into 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), 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

Children’s and adolescents’ cognitive abilities, social adaptation, and externalizing behaviors are broadly associated with each other at the bivariate level; however, the direction, ordering, and uniqueness of these associations had yet to be identified. Developmental cascade models are particularly well suited first to discern unique pathways among psychological domains and second to model stability in and covariation among constructs, allowing for conservative tests of longitudinal associations. The study identified specific cascade effects among children’s cognitive abilities, social adaptation, and externalizing behaviors over a 10-year period beginning in preschool and extending into adolescence. Children (46.2% female) and mothers (N = 351 families) provided data when children were 4, 10, and 14 years old. Cascade effects highlighted significant stability in these domains. Unique longitudinal associations were identified between (1) cognitive abilities at age 10 and social adaptation at age 14, (2) social adaptation at age 4 and externalizing behavior at age 10, and (3) externalizing behavior at age 10 and social adaptation at age 14. The findings suggest that children’s social adaptation in preschool and externalizing behavior in middle childhood may be ideal intervention targets to enhance adolescent wellbeing.

Parenting has strong instrumental connotations and is widely believed to contribute in central ways to the course and outcome of child development and adjustment by regulating the majority of child-environment interactions and helping to shape children’s adaptation. Insofar as parenting practices embody or are motivated by parenting cognitions, cognitions are thought to generate and give meaning to practices and mediate their effectiveness. It is therefore often assumed that caregiving cognitions engender caregiving practices and, ultimately, children’s development and adjustment. In a large-scale (N = 317) prospective 8-year longitudinal multi-age, multi-domain, multi-variate, multi-source study, we tested a conservative 3-term model linking parenting cognitions in toddlerhood to parenting practices in preschool to classroom externalizing behavior in middle childhood, controlling for earlier parenting practices and child externalizing behavior. Mothers who were more knowledgeable, satisfied, and attributed successes in their parenting to themselves when their toddlers were 20 months of age engaged in increased supportive parenting two years later when their children were 4 years of age, and six years after that their 10-year-olds were rated by teachers as having fewer classroom externalizing behavior problems. This developmental cascade of a “standard model” of parenting applied equally to families with girls and boys, and the cascade from parenting attributions to supportive parenting to child externalizing behavior obtained. Conceptualizing socialization in terms of cascades helps identify points of effective intervention.

Many adolescents display risk behaviors that may persist into adulthood and contribute to an enormous public health and social financial burden. Young people may engage in adverse, aggressive, and otherwise reckless behaviors, including driving without a seatbelt and drug and alcohol use, which can threaten their own and others’ physical health and safety. Moreover, adolescents and young adults have the highest age-specific diagnosis rates for many sexually transmitted diseases compared with other age groups. Given the possible co-occurrence of different risk behaviors, a better understanding of health risk among adolescents requires a more holistic approach, by which a broader range of risk behaviors are considered simultaneously. We identified four latent profiles based on risk levels (Low, Modest, Medium and High) of safety and violence, sexual behavior, alcohol use, and marijuana and other drug use for 229 adolescents at 18 years and 23 years. Some adolescents maintained their latent profile membership over time, but more transitioned between risk profiles. Adolescents with more depressive symptoms had a higher probability of developing into the High Risk versus Low and Modest Risk profiles at 23 years. Adolescents in the High, Low, and Modest Risk profiles at 18 years developed more depressive symptoms in young adulthood compared with Medium Risk adolescents. Further, we found reciprocal associations between a High Risk profile and depressive symptoms over time. The findings suggest that mental health and behavioral risks are intertwined and that targeting one of the two aspects may be effective in treating the other.

Child development and parenting in multicultural perspective

Researchers report a neurobiological basis for human mothers’ responses to infant cries. The extent to which human caregivers are biologically programmed to respond to their infants’ cries remains unclear. To shed light on this question, together with colleagues we observed the behavior of 684 mothers averaging 27 years of age with infants approximately 5 months old in 11 countries and found that, across all countries, mothers preferentially responded to their infants’ crying by picking up and holding and talking to the infant. Based on these observations, the authors hypothesized that infant crying would elicit common responses in the brains of new mothers from different cultures. We then conducted fMRI experiments involving 43 American mothers, average age 33 years, with 3.5 month-old infants, and 44 Chinese mothers, average age 30.5 years, with 7.6 month-old infants. In both sets of mothers, the sound of infants’ cries activated the supplementary motor area associated with the intention to move and speak, Broca’s area and the superior temporal regions associated with processing speech and complex sounds, and midbrain and striatal regions associated with caregiving. The results suggest a neurobiological and evolutionary basis for the way human mothers respond to infant cries.

As survival rates following a preterm birth have risen as a result of improvements in obstetrics and neonatology, preterm birth has emerged as a risk factor for poor development in an increasing proportion of the population. Language skills have been regularly reported to be impaired in children born very preterm. However, language findings are somewhat less consistent for children born moderate-to-late preterm. This study investigated whether children born very preterm, moderate-to-late preterm, and term (37–41 weeks) differ in their average level and individual-difference stability in language performance over time. Samples of 204 very preterm, 276 moderate-late preterm, and 268 term children were given language assessments at 5 months, 20 months, 4, 6, and 8 years of age. Very preterm children consistently performed worse than term-born children, and moderate-late preterm children scored in between. Language performance was stable from 5 months through 8 years in all gestation groups combined, and stability increased between each succeeding testing wave. The study’s findings have several implications for pediatricians and parents. Pediatricians and parents should be made aware that preterm-born children, even those born moderate-late preterm, are at risk for delayed language abilities compared with term children. By 20 months of age, children who are performing poorly relative to their peers are likely to continue to perform poorly at later ages; stability in language performance appears to strengthen over time. Finally, very preterm children appear to be at the greatest risk for problems with language development. Through regular checkups, pediatricians have the opportunity to connect children who have lagging language skills with critical services.

Most studies of the effects of parental religiousness on parenting and child development focus on a particular religion or cultural group, which limits generalizations that can be made about the effects of parental religiousness on family life. We assessed associations among parental religiousness, parenting, and children’s adjustment in a three-year longitudinal investigation of 1198 families from 9 countries. We included four religions (Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Islam) plus unaffiliated parents, two positive (efficacy and warmth) and two negative (control and rejection) parenting practices, and two positive (social competence and school performance) and two negative (internalizing and externalizing) child outcomes. Parents’ greater religiousness had both positive and negative associations with parenting and child adjustment. Greater parent religiousness when children were eight was associated with higher parental efficacy at nine and, in turn, children’s better social competence and school performance and fewer child internalizing and externalizing problems at 10. However, greater parent religiousness at eight was also associated with more parental control at nine, which in turn was associated with more child internalizing and externalizing problems at 10. Parental warmth and rejection had inconsistent relations with parental religiousness and child outcomes depending on the informant. With a few exceptions, similar patterns of results held for all four religions and the unaffiliated, nine sites, mothers and fathers, girls and boys, and controlling for demographic covariates.

Additional Funding

  • Bench to Bedside Award NHD16004-001: “Mirror neuron network dysfunction as an early biomarker of neurodevelopment,” funded by Office of Behavioral & Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) 2016; ongoing.
  • Interagency Agreement #CPSC-I-14-0016: “Interagency Agreement between the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development,” 2015; ongoing.


  1. Racz SJ, Putnick DL, Suwalsky JTD, Hendricks C, Bornstein, MH. Cognitive abilities, social adaptation, and externalizing behavior problems in childhood and adolescence: specific cascade effects across development. J Youth Adolesc 2017 46:1688-1701.
  2. Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Suwalsky JTD. Parenting cognitions → parenting practices → child adjustment? The standard model. Dev Psychopathol 2017; ePub ahead of print.
  3. Yu J, Putnick DL, Hendricks C, Bornstein MH. Health-risk behavior profiles and reciprocal relations with depressive symptoms from adolescence to young adulthood. J Adolesc Health 2017 61:773-778.
  4. Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Rigo P, Esposito G, Swain JE, Suwalsky JTD, Su X, Du X, Cote LR, De Pisapia N, Venuti P. Neurobiology of culturally common maternal responses to infant cry. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2017 114(45):E9465-E9473.
  5. Putnick DL, Bornstein MH, Eryigit-Madzwamuse S, Wolke D. Long-term stability of language performance in very preterm, moderate-late preterm, and term children. J Pediatr 2017 181:74-79.


  • Martha E. Arterberry, PhD, Colby College, Waterville, ME
  • 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
  • Keumjoo Kwak, PhD, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea
  • 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
  • Rebecca Pearson, PhD, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Khalisa Phillips, EdM, PhD, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Rockville, MD
  • 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
  • Miguel Vega, PhD, University of Santiago, Santiago, Chile
  • Paola Venuti, PhD, Scienze e Tecniche di Psicologia Cognitiva Applicata, Trento, Italy
  • Dieter Wolke, PhD, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom


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