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National Institutes of Health

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

2018 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
  • Melissa Richards, 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 with 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, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Peru, the Republic of South Korea, and the United Kingdom, 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 fundamental life skill, a cornerstone of cognitive and socio-emotional development and a necessary ingredient for successful functioning in society. We used 15-year prospective longitudinal data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children to evaluate two types of stability of core language skill in 5,036 typically developing and 1,056 atypically developing (preterm, dyslexic, autistic, and hearing-impaired) children in a multi-age, multi-domain, multi-measure, multi-reporter framework. A single core language skill was extracted from multiple measures at several ages, and the skill proved stable from infancy to adolescence in all groups, even accounting for child nonverbal intelligence and sociability and maternal age and education. Language skill is a highly conserved and robust individual-differences characteristic. Lagging language skills, a risk factor in child development, would profitably be addressed early in life.

The overall purpose of this within-family longitudinal study was to examine in close detail a variety of socio-emotional parenting cognitions and practices of mothers with their first- and second-born toddlers alongside socio-emotional characteristics of the siblings themselves. Mothers participated with their 20-month-old first-borns and again, an average of three years later, with their 20-month-old second-borns (55 families, 165 participants). We assessed and compared continuity and stability in maternal cognitions and practices between the two times, and similarities, differences, and correspondences in siblings’ behaviors. Maternal socio-emotional parenting cognitions were continuous in mean level and stable in individual differences across siblings; maternal socio-emotional practices were continuous in mean level but unstable in individual differences. First-borns were more sociable and emotionally available to mothers than second-borns; first- and second-borns’ socioemotional behaviors were largely unrelated. This study contributes to understanding socio-emotional domains of parenting and child development, birth order effects, and the shared and non-shared contexts of siblings’ environments within the family.

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 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 care-giving cognitions engender care-giving 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 three-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 more supportive parenting two years later when their children were 4 years of age; 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.

Child development and parenting in multicultural perspective

Promoting children’s pro-social behavior is a goal for parents, healthcare professionals, and nations. We are interested in the question of whether positive parenting promotes later child pro-social behavior, or whether children who are more pro-social elicit more positive parenting later, or both. To date, relations between parenting and pro-social behavior have been studied only in a narrow band of countries, mostly with mothers and not fathers, and child gender was infrequently explored as a moderator of parenting/pro-social relations. Our cross-national study used 1,178 families (mothers, fathers, and children) from nine countries to explore developmental transactions between parental acceptance-rejection and girls’ and boys’ pro-social behavior across three waves (child ages 9 to 12). Controlling for stability across waves, within-wave relations, and parental age and education, higher parental acceptance predicted increased child pro-social behavior from age 9 to 10 and from age 10 to 12. Higher age-9 child pro-social behavior also predicted increased parental acceptance from age 9 to 10. Such transactional paths were invariant across nine countries, mothers and fathers, and girls and boys. Parental acceptance increases child pro-social behaviors later, but child pro-social behaviors are not effective at increasing parental acceptance in the transition to adolescence. The study identifies widely applicable socialization processes across countries, mothers and fathers, and girls and boys.

Adults speak to infants differently than how they speak to adults. Compared with Adult-Directed Speech (ADS), Infant-Directed Speech (IDS) has a higher pitch (f0), a larger pitch range (f0 range), a slower tempo (longer phoneme duration), and is more rhythmic. Inoue et al. [Neurosci Res 2011;70:62] implemented a machine algorithm that, by using a mel-frequency cepstral coefficient and a hidden Markov model, discriminated IDS from ADS in Japanese. We applied the original algorithm to two other languages that are very different from Japanese—Italian and German—and then tested the algorithm on Italian and German databases of IDS and ADS. Our results showed that: first, in accord with the extant literature, IDS is realized in a similar way across languages; second, the algorithm performed well in both languages and close to that reported for Japanese.

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.


  1. Bornstein MH, Hahn C-S, Putnick DL, Pearson R. Stability of core language skill from infancy to adolescence in typical and atypical development. Sci Adv 2018;4:eaat7422.
  2. Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Suwalsky JTD. Continuity, stability, and concordance of socioemotional functioning in mothers and their sibling children. Soc Dev 2019;28:90-105.
  3. Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Suwalsky JTD. Parenting cognitions → parenting practices → child adjustment? The standard model. Dev Psychopathol 2018;30:399-416.
  4. Putnick DL, Bornstein MH, Lansford JE, Chang L, Deater-Deckard K, Di Giunta L, Dodge KA, Malone PS, Oburu P, Pastorelli C, Skinner AT, Sorbring E, Tapanya S, Uribe Tirado LM, Zelli A, Alampay LP, Al-Hassan SM, Bacchini D, Bombi AS. Parental acceptance-rejection and child prosocial behavior: Developmental transactions across the transition to adolescence in nine countries, mothers and fathers, and girls and boys. Dev Psychol 2018;54:1881-1890.
  5. Sulpizio S, Kuroda K, Dalsasso M, Asakawa T, Bornstein MH, Doi H, Esposito G, Shinohara K. Discriminating between mothers’ infant-and adult-directed speech: cross-linguistic generalizability from Japanese to Italian and German. Neurosci Res 2018;133:21-27.


  • Martha E. Arterberry, PhD, Colby College, Waterville, ME
  • Orazio Attanasio, PhD, Institute for Fiscal Studies, London, United Kingdom
  • 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
  • Nathan Fox, PhD, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
  • Celia Galperín, PhD, Universidad de Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Merideth Gattis, PhD, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
  • Samuel Greiff, PhD, Université du Luxembourg, Luxembourg-Kirchberg, Luxembourg
  • Derya Güngör, PhD, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  • 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
  • Sonya Krutikova, PhD, Institute for Fiscal Studies, London, United Kingdom
  • Keumjoo Kwak, PhD, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea
  • Kyle Lang, PhD, Universiteit van Tilburg, Tilburg, The Netherlands
  • Jennifer E. Lansford, PhD, Duke University, Durham, NC
  • Todd Little, PhD, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX
  • Sharona Maital, PhD, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
  • Nanmathi Manian, PhD, Westat, Inc., Rockville, MD
  • Maida Mustafic, PhD, Fachhochschule für Angewandte Psychologie FHNW, Olten, Switzerland
  • Sabina Pauen, PhD, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
  • Rebecca Pearson, PhD, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Khalisa Phillips, EdM, PhD, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Rockville, MD
  • Paola Rigo, PhD, Università degli Studi di Padova, Padova, 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
  • Miguel Vega, PhD, Universidad de 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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