In This Issue

Emotion Management

Emotions that are related to moral transgression may have important implications for the development of prosocial and antisocial behavior. Malti and Krettenauer (p. 397) asked: What emotions do children attribute to themselves if they act morally wrong, for example if they push a classmate off a swing or steal a friend's chocolate, and how do these emotions relate to their prosocial and antisocial behavior? In their review of 42 studies covering more than 8,000 people ages 4–20, they find that children and adolescents who reported feeling guilty or sad following moral transgressions showed higher levels of prosocial behavior and lower levels of antisocial behavior. By showing that young people's negative feelings following moral wrongdoing predict their morally relevant actions, the study can inform efforts to reduce bullying and other negative behavior.

Emotion regulation—the ability to modulate one's emotional arousal to foster an optimal level of engagement with the environment—is important in preventing stressful levels of negative emotions and maladaptive behavior. Children who are maltreated may not develop emotional regulation well, partly because they lack sensitive interactions with their caregivers. In their longitudinal research, Kim-Spoon, Cicchetti, and Rogosch (p. 512) observed almost 325 low-income children over the course of a week at camp, starting when the children were seven and continuing annually for 4 years. Some of the children had been abused or neglected. They find that children who had been maltreated tended to have mood swings as well as anger and other intense negative emotions that made it difficult for them to regulate their emotions a year later. This in turn was related to increases in anxiety and depression a year later. The study can inform interventions to help youngsters develop effective skills to regulate negative emotional experiences.

Children of depressed parents are at greater risk for a variety of psychological problems, but not all of these children show signs of disturbance. Laurent et al. (p. 528) took a longitudinal look at 210 families of primarily White parents with relatively high socioeconomic status and their domestically adopted children (from a range of racial backgrounds) when the children were 18, 27, and 54 months old. Young children who showed high levels of stress hormones (as measured by cortisol) were most likely to develop a range of psychological problems (including anxiety, depression, and aggression) when their parents showed signs of depression, the study finds. Since the children were adopted, heightened risk couldn't be explained genetically. Given the value of learning what makes children more or less vulnerable to their parents' mood problems to prevent intergenerational cycles of disorder, this study highlights the importance of early intervention for depressed parents.

Changing Perceptions

Adults can tell the difference between something that moves but still exists (as when an object passes behind another object) and when something seems to disappear and no longer exists (as when an object implodes and rapidly shrinks to nothing). Research shows that 4- to 6-month-olds expect a moving object that's gone behind something else to continue along its path of motion, but we know little about what's behind that perception. In their eye-tracking study of 60 middle-class, White infants ages 5–7 months, Bertenthal, Gredebäck, and Boyer (p. 413) find that like adults, infants used changing optical information to predict the reappearance of a moving ball. Nevertheless, they also eventually learned to disregard information for the ball's implosion if it reappeared from behind a screen. This suggests that babies' perceptual learning can trump their developing object knowledge.

The experience we make of the world is inherently multisensory: We hear and see our friends speaking; we see and feel our bodies moving; we taste, touch, smell, and see the food we buy. When dealing with multisensory inputs, adults' brains often rely on sight more than the other senses. In infants and children up to age 4, however, hearing dominates. Nava and Pavani (p. 604) asked: When in development do adult patterns of sensory dominance start to emerge? Their study of about 80 Italian children ages 6–12 put two multisensory paradigms (visual and auditory) into conflict with one another. They find that hearing dominates until 6 or 7, and sight starts to take over by 9 or 10. By revealing developmental shifts in sensory dominance, the study may offer insights into cases of atypical development, such as in children with autism spectrum disorders.

Group Think

In everything from the way we eat, dress, and speak to the beliefs and attitudes we hold and beyond, we make ourselves similar to the people around us. As they develop, children learn a vast amount of information about how individuals in groups do things. Do young children copy members of their own group (ingroup members) more closely than members of other groups (outgroup members)? In a study of 66 German infants, Buttelmann, Zmyj, Daum, and Carpenter (p. 422) find that infants copied the ingroup model (an unfamiliar person who spoke their language and then performed a novel task) more faithfully than the outgroup model (an unfamiliar person who spoke a different language and performed a novel task). By 14 months, infants used characteristics related to group membership to guide their imitative responses, suggesting that they'd started to selectively acquire the behaviors of their own cultural group.

Are children who feel they belong to a social group more interested in tasks tied to that group? Past research found that feelings of group identity caused children to exhibit ingroup bias. Master and Walton (p. 737), in their study of 130 middle-class preschoolers (ages 4 and 5), find that these feelings of belonging also affected young children's motivation and learning; specifically, children worked harder on tasks associated with their group than on tasks not tied to their group. By suggesting that children internalize interests and motivation from groups they belong to, the study has implications for how children learn.

The Development of ASD

The development of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is much like that of children without ASD at 6 months of age, but differs afterwards, according to Landa, Gross, Stuart, and Faherty (p. 429). Their study sought to define patterns of social, communication, cognitive, and motor development in the first 3 years of life in 235 primarily White children with and without an older sibling with autism at 6 months. They find that the development of children with ASD is much like that of children without ASD at 6 months but becomes atypical thereafter, suggesting a preclinical phase. The research has implications for developmental screening, suggesting that it begin in infancy, be complemented by 14 months, and be repeated throughout early childhood.

Passing Judgment

Adults tend to jump to conclusions about people's personality traits with little evidence (e.g., labeling someone who cut you off in traffic a jerk without knowing that the driver may have been rushing to see someone in the hospital). Seiver, Gopnik, and Goodman (p. 443) tested causal inference in about one-hundred-sixty 4- and 6-year-olds. They find that younger children are better than older children at taking people's actions into account before passing judgment. In particular, the 4-year-olds paid more attention to how different people behaved in different situations and gave explanations for their behavior that were supported by the pattern of evidence. The 6-year-olds responded more like adults: Even when given evidence that strongly implicated the situation, they still tended to think the reason the person acted in a certain way was due to the quality of the person.

The Fallout of War

More than a billion children live in war-torn nations, and the effects of war are catastrophic, with children reporting high rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Betancourt, McBain, Newnham, and Brennan (p. 455) sought to learn more about these mental health problems over time. Their study of war-affected youths in Sierra Leone integrates longitudinal and ecological perspectives to look at the pathways of such problems as depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal in 2002 (when the war ended), 2004, and 2008; the almost 530 youths in the research were 10–17 years old when first studied and many had been soldiers. Findings: Many youths had lower levels of anxiety and depression or significantly improved over time, despite limited access to care, pointing to the youths' resilience. But smaller proportions continued to report severe difficulties 6 years after the war or their symptoms worsened, including those who had lost a caregiver, suffered family abuse and neglect, and felt community stigma. The study highlights the complexity of factors that contribute to post-war adjustment and has implications for public health interventions in countries torn by war.

Family Dynamics

As adolescents begin to develop their own sense of identity and establish more independence from their parents, family relationships can become disrupted. How do added opportunities for independence once teens become adults continue to shape family relationships as youths make their way into adulthood? In an 8-year longitudinal study, Tsai, Telzer, and Fuligni (p. 471) took a yearly look at about 820 teens of diverse ethnic backgrounds from ninth to twelfth grade and 2 and 4 years later. They find that although feelings across multiple aspects of family relationships weakened during adolescence, this decline lasted for only two dimensions during young adulthood (closeness with fathers and feelings about helping out other family members). Overall, family relationships tended to stabilize or even rebound during young adulthood, with closeness with mothers, feelings of respect, and ideas about obligations to support their families returning at this time.

Research suggests that siblings affect children's development, with some siblings providing support, caretaking, and mentoring, while others model aggression and delinquency. McGuire and Segal (p. 500) looked at 300 pairs of siblings (different types of twins and nontwins) and friends who were 7–13 and came from a range of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. They find that siblings who share personal characteristics (e.g., being genetically related, of the same gender, and close in age) and social experiences (e.g., having a warm relationship and going to the same school) are more likely to share many friends than siblings who don't share these characteristics. Among these pairs, if a shared peer group is prosocial, the similarities may serve as protective, but if the shared peer group is antisocial, both siblings may be at risk for behavior problems.

Bias Across Generations

Studies have shown that discrimination negatively affects adults' and adolescents' mental health. Ford, Hurd, Jagers, and Sellers (p. 485) looked at more than 260 pairs of African American caregivers (primarily mothers) and their adolescent children to determine how the caregivers' experiences with discrimination during the previous year shaped their children's mental health during the following year, as well as how the caregivers' income levels affected the youths' mental health. Findings: The more caregivers experienced discrimination, the greater the symptoms of depression and lower psychological well-being among the teens. Discrimination and income jointly affected teens' mental health, with children exposed to the greatest amount of risk (lower family income and more caregiver discrimination experiences) having the least positive mental health trajectories, with no improvement over time. The study highlights the far-reaching and cross-generational implications of racial discrimination for African American families, as well as how income affects the harm of bias.

Language Modalities

Hearing parents of children with severe to profound hearing loss who choose oral language as their primary way to communicate have better opportunities than previously to develop their children's oral language skills with the use of a cochlear implant. Cruz, Quittner, Marker, and DesJardin (p. 543) used data from the largest, youngest, nationally representative sample of deaf children receiving cochlear implants to determine whether the quantity and quality of parents' input affects language development in deaf children who received a cochlear implant before age 2. In all, about 100 mostly White deaf children under age 2 were assessed. Higher-level strategies such as parallel talk, open-ended questions, and recasting predicted growth in expressive language scores 3 years after implantation, and the number of different word types used by parents was associated with increases in receptive language. By suggesting that parents play an active role in facilitating their deaf children's language development, the study has implications for interventions.

The longitudinal relations between nonverbal and verbal modalities of communication are of special interest in research on language development. In their study out of Norway, Zambrana, Ystrom, Schjolberg, and Pons (p. 560) looked at more than 42,500 children at 18 months and more than 28,000 of the same children at 36 months. They find that, after accounting for language skills at 18 months, children's imitative actions, but not their pointing gestures, uniquely contributed to predicting late development of language production at 36 months. These results suggest that imitative actions at 18 months are part of the emerging nonverbal and verbal capacity for symbolic representations. The study could have practical implications for screening for early language delays.

Baby sign language encourages parents to communicate with their hearing babies before they can talk, using hand gestures that stand for everyday objects or concepts. In the first randomized control trial to evaluate the benefits of this type of symbolic gesture, Kirk, Howlett, Pine, and Fletcher (p. 574) studied 40 mother-baby pairs (babies were 8 months at the start and came from well-educated families) over a year. They find no support for claims that encouraging gesturing with babies accelerates their language development. However, this British study did find that moms who gestured with their babies were more likely to treat their children as intelligent individuals, were more responsive to their babies' nonverbal cues, and encouraged more independent action by their babies. Thus, baby sign may not do much for typically developing babies in families with rich linguistic environments, but it may enrich impoverished linguistic environments by enhancing moms' responsiveness to infants' nonverbal cues and babies' autonomy.

Media Watch

About two-thirds of children under age 2 watch TV for an hour or two every day. What role do parents play in guiding their children's early viewing? Demers, Hanson, Kirkorian, Pempek, and Anderson (p. 591) studied about 120 primarily White infants (ages 12–15 and 18–21 months) watching baby videos with their parents. The babies were more likely to look at the TV immediately after their parents started looking toward the TV. This wasn't solely because the TV program attracted the parents' and the infants' attention at the same time. And when infants looked at the TV after their parents looked, their gaze lasted longer than when they spontaneously looked at the TV, suggesting that parents' attention to TV influences infants' TV viewing

Language Learning

Natural language is a complex knowledge system with sophisticated linguistic structures that children acquire without explicit instruction. In their study of almost 100 Canadian infants (ages 14–30 months) learning French, Cyr and Shi (p. 617) investigated infants' grammatical categorization of words—specifically grammatical gender (in many languages, nouns and articles are divided into masculine and feminine classes)—using a preferential looking procedure. They find that by 20 months, infants discriminated between grammatical and ungrammatical gender pairings of novel phrases, suggesting that abstract knowledge of grammatical gender categorization and agreement emerges during the second year of life. This means that infants have started analyzing abstract grammatical structures long before 20 months of age, and earlier than widely assumed.

About 10% of children in the United States start school not knowing enough English to get by in English-only classrooms. The number of these students, English Language Learners (ELLs), grew nearly 20 percent over the last decade. Most are Spanish speakers. To learn more about the shape, direction, and rate of ELL students' growth patterns, Rojas and Iglesias (p. 630), in the first of three longitudinal studies, looked at more than 1,700 ELL students from kindergarten through second grade. Among their findings: Language growth in English during the school year was steady but slowed for some measures and even regressed for others over the summer. Beginning with lower English language skills was tied to faster language growth in English. Beginning with higher Spanish language skills was tied to faster language growth in Spanish. And girls started with more Spanish language skills than boys and their growth over time was faster. The results tell us that first and second language development among ELLs is not identical and that specific variables affect the growth of each language differently.

How do children learn language so quickly? In particular, when do children begin to use grammatical information to produce language? To explore whether children's early multiword utterances are built on rudimentary knowledge of grammar or around lexical items, Le Normand, Moreno-Torres, Parisse, and Dellatolas (p. 647) looked at the effect of grammatical, lexical, and pragmatic categories in relation to utterance length of about 310 French 2- to 4-year-olds from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds. Findings: Differences across age and social contexts reflect developmental changes, but all children have in common a core language that's characterized by the similar use of basic grammatical categories. The findings support a developmental and sociocognitive view of language according to which grammatical development is a gradual and dynamic process that takes place at the same time as the child develops cognitive skills and social experience.

Executive Control and Math Achievement

Even before they enter the classroom, children have a basic understanding of math, and informal math knowledge is an important predictor of math achievement through middle school. Another key area of cognitive ability, executive control, also develops rapidly during early childhood. Clark, Sheffield, Wiebe, and Espy (p. 662) assessed the executive control abilities of more than 200 mostly White 3-year-olds from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Higher executive control was related to higher achievement on assessments of informal math knowledge 9 and 18 months later. Executive control at age 3 was a strong predictor of children's early math achievement at kindergarten age, above and beyond developing informal math knowledge and their language ability at age 3. The study can inform early intervention efforts, particularly among poor children, who tend to have fewer executive control skills at 3 and lower math performance in kindergarten.

School Spirit

When students are in high school and reach the age at which education is no longer compulsory, feeling close to and connected with people at school (also called school belonging) is critical. In their longitudinal study, Gillen-O'Neel and Fuligni (p. 678) followed an ethnically diverse group of almost 600 students through public high school to examine how school belonging changes over these years and how it's associated with students' academic values. Changes in school belonging differed by gender: In ninth grade, boys' school belonging was lower than girls'. Over time, however, boys' school belonging remained stable, while girls' decreased to boys' levels. Yearly changes in students' school belonging were associated with corresponding changes in their academic values: Years in which students had higher school belonging were also years in which they felt that school was more enjoyable and more useful, above and beyond their actual level of achievement.

American and Chinese middle-school teens who tell their parents about their daily lives are more engaged in school and earn higher grades 2 years later, compared with teens who don't share that information, according to a longitudinal study by Cheung, Pomerantz, Dong (p. 693). In their study of 825 children (starting in seventh grade) in the United States and China, the researchers sought to determine why some children are able to remain engaged when many students entering middle school become less so, a factor that affects their achievement. When children spontaneously share with their parents what's happening in their lives—what they're doing in school, what they do in their free time, and so forth—the researchers posit, parents may take the opportunity to provide support for children in school and convey the importance of education.

Yes or No

Adults tend to ask yes-no questions when trying to get information from preschoolers. But young children often have trouble answering this type of question, according to Fritzley, Lindsay, and Lee (p. 711), who studied 200 primarily White, middle-class children ages 2–5. Two-year-olds, they find, tended to show a bias toward saying “yes,” even when “no” was the correct answer, while older preschoolers answered the question accurately—as long as they understood the question. When the question contained words they didn't understand, older preschoolers tended to show a bias toward saying “no.” Very few children were willing to admit their ignorance when asked a question they didn't understand. The study has implications for the use of yes-no questions with preschoolers in schools, courtrooms, and research, suggesting that other methods of getting information may yield more accurate answers.

Correction Strategies

One of the most important aspects of early childhood development is the emergence of self-control, which improves dramatically during the preschool years. This is surprising given how overconfident in their abilities children are at this age. Lyons and Ghetti (p. 726) looked at whether about 90 preschoolers (ages 3–5) could tell if they were going to make a mistake and whether the insight guided self-control behavior. Findings: Even very young children could tell when they were likely to err and took action to avoid making mistakes when they felt uncertain. This suggests that one way to help improve preschoolers' self-control skills may be to target their ability to reflect on how well they're doing on a task.

Quality of Care

Most parents enroll their children in child care when they're young despite disagreement about whether such care affects the youngsters positively or negatively. One reason studies are contradictory is because they don't distinguish between the quality of care. Côté et al. (p. 752) find that preschoolers in higher-quality child care do better cognitively before they start school. Their study, of about 250 Canadian families whose children were in child care at least 10 hours a week, looked at child care quality when the children were 2–4 years old and children's cognitive performance (including readiness for school, receptive vocabulary, and numeracy skills and knowledge) at age 4. In concluding that child care quality matters for preschoolers' cognitive development, the study supports the use of stimulating programs and practices.

Anne Bridgman