In This Issue

Mining Methodology

Most researchers recognize the important role that statistical analyses play in addressing research questions. van de Schoot et al. (p. 842) present information on the role that Baynesian approaches can play in matching the theory and data analysis. They provide an overview of the theory behind Baynesian approaches and demonstrate how to use them in evaluating developmental theories, providing an introduction to the world of Bayesian statistics and an example in which updating was applied to actual data.

Statistical analysis provides researchers with a means to test theories about development. Petscher and Logan (p. 861) introduce developmental scientists to an analysis popular in economics research called quantile regression. Quantile regression allows for the possibility that analysis models may provide stronger prediction of child outcomes for children who show higher or lower levels of outcomes. This approach examines the prediction model within quantiles (a term that closely corresponds to percentile) of the outcome variable (i.e., whether they are low, average, or high on the outcome). Specifically, they demonstrate how quantile regression could be used in developmental science by examining the math achievement gap (based on poverty and racial characteristics). They find that the size of achievement gap in math skills depends on students' math achievement and that math was more strongly related to socioeconomic status and ethnicity for children with moderate math skills.

African American Youth: Mental and Physical Health

Many Black teens perceive themselves to be the victims of racial discrimination, and these perceptions are negatively linked to their mental health. Prior work suggests that identities and coping strategies alter the relation between perceptions of unfair treatment and mental health. In their study of more than 300 Black 13- to 18-year-olds recruited through social media, Seaton, Upton, Gilbert, and Volpe (p. 882) tested the idea that specific identities and coping strategies simultaneously alter the relation between perceptions of racial discrimination and symptoms of depression among Black adolescents. Findings: Black youth who believed that all Blacks should identify with the plight of other minorities avoided dealing with stress in the context of unfair treatment. These findings suggest the need to bolster African American youth's coping with experiences of racial discrimination to reduce the impact on their mental health.

African American 20-year-olds who say they experienced frequent discrimination during adolescence had high levels of allostatic load—the biological wear and tear on the body due to exposure to repeated stress—putting them at risk for developing heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke in later years, according to Brody et al. (p. 989). They also find that emotional support from parents and peers can protect the youth from stress-related damage to their bodies and health, short-circuiting the progression to disease. Their study looked at more than 330 African American youth living in rural American towns where poverty is among the highest in the nation and unemployment rates are above the national average. The findings can inform health care providers, public health professionals designing interventions, and policymakers seeking to decrease race-based health discrepancies.

Family, school, and religion influence adolescents' mental health, but few studies have looked at the effect of all three factors at the same time among subgroups of teens. Using data from a national sample of 1,170 Black teens (ages 13–17), Rose, Joe, Shields, and Caldwell (p. 1003) looked at both positive aspects of mental health (such as self-esteem and coping) and adverse aspects (like stress and disorder). They find that attachment to family, school, and religion fosters better mental health for Black adolescents, an understudied group that's considered vulnerable. School was the strongest influence. The results can inform the development of strategies or interventions that foster closeness and communication between teens and their families, as well as school connections and involvement, particularly among Black youth.

Educational Expectations

Educational expectations are the realistic predictions that parents, youth, or teachers have regarding young people's future academic outcomes. Adolescents' and parents' educational expectations are strongly related to academic success, yet adolescents and their parents don't always share the same expectations or accurately identify each other's expectations. Wang and Benner (p. 891), in a study using a nationally representative, longitudinal sample of more than 14,000 students starting in eighth grade and continuing until 2 years after high school graduation, find that adolescents perform better academically and attain more when their parents actually hold higher expectations than the youth hold. Unexpectedly, these benefits were seen when adolescents perceived that their parents' expectations were lower than their own. In contrast, achievement was lower when parents actually held lower expectations than youth or when adolescents believed that their parents' expectations were higher than their own. By highlighting the role of discrepancies for youth's achievement and educational attainment, the study can help educators better identify adolescents at risk and promote adaptive patterns of educational expectations among parents and youth.

Patterns in Parenting

European and American teens who share information with their parents about their whereabouts and activities engage less in risky behavior like substance use than those who don't share such information. Nucci, Smetana, Araki, Nakaue, and Comer (p. 901) extend this focus to include teens in Japan, where family patterns are different and issues of parents' authority and individual privacy are handled differently. Their study of 460 Japanese 16- and 17-year-olds from working- and lower-middle-class families finds that Japanese teens have unique characteristics and also share characteristics with their U.S. and European counterparts. The Japanese teens felt most obligated to disclose to parents their engagement in risky behaviors, but were actually more likely to tell parents about personal and private activities, in part to maintain harmony and closeness. As with U.S. and European teens, Japanese adolescents who said they had positive, trusting relationships told their parents more than teens whose relationships with their parents was less positive. The study provides insights about non-Western teens.

Many American parents yell or shout at their teens. In a longitudinal study of more than 950 middle-class, two-parent families and their children of a mix of ethnic backgrounds, Wang and Kenny (p. 908) find that using such harsh verbal discipline in early adolescence can be harmful to teens later—as harmful as hitting them. Instead of minimizing teens' problematic behavior, harsh verbal discipline may aggravate it. The children of mothers and fathers who used harsh verbal discipline—yelling and shouting at children, insulting or using words to humiliate, swearing, cursing, calling names—when the children were 13 suffered more symptoms of depression between 13 and 14 than their peers who weren't disciplined in this way; they were also more likely to misbehave at school, lie to parents, steal, or fight. The findings suggest that the notion that harsh discipline is without consequence when a strong parent-child bond exists—that teens will understand that “they're doing this because they love me”—is misguided because parental warmth didn't lessen the effects of harsh verbal discipline. The study can inform parents and parenting programs.

Chinese and Canadian children prefer their parents to use reasoning with them over shaming or withdrawing love, conclude Helwig, To, Wang, Liu, and Yang (p. 1150) in one of the first studies of these issues outside Western society. Their study looked at almost 300 urban and rural 7- to 14-year-old Chinese and Canadians' understandings of various parental discipline methods. Despite cultural differences in perceptions of how common these parenting practices are in China and Canada (Chinese children were more likely to see practices entailing shaming, social comparisons, and withdrawal of love as more common), all participants evaluated these practices negatively as they grew older and preferred parents to use reasoning instead. The results can inform policy on socialization and raising children.

Parent-Child Talk

Parents who talk in generalizations (saying things like “Boys play with trucks”) think about the world differently than parents who don't—and their children also tend to talk in generalizations. Those are the conclusions of a study by Gelman, Ware, Kleinberg, Manczak, and Stilwell (p. 924). Researchers recorded by video more than 100 primarily White parents with their 2- or 4-year-olds looking at pictures or playing with toys. Parents who talked in generalizations tended to think that people don't change over time, reporting that a person's characteristics (such as shy, artistic, athletic) stay the same from age 20 to age 40. And their children tended to express a lot of generalizations as well, picking up the tendency from listening to their parents. By showing that different parents have different styles of talking to their children, the study helps us understand how these differences can affect how children think about the world and how they form stereotypes.

When typically developing 2-year-olds talk with their moms, the topics they share stay close to objects and events in the here and now. Adamson, Bakeman, Deckner, and Nelson (p. 941) describe how these early periods of interaction gradually develop into conversations about topics such as memories, plans, and beliefs. The findings of their longitudinal study of about 50 primarily European-American mother-child pairs trace a lengthy developmental course from 18 months, when children typically are just beginning to speak, to 66 months, when they can sustain conversations. As such, the study can inform interventions to help children with developmental disorders, such as autism, who have difficulty sustaining joint attention.

Two-year-olds whose moms frequently use terms like think and remember while interacting with them are more likely at ages 6 and 10 to do well on tests that gauge their understanding of what causes others' actions, according to Ensor, Devine, Marks, and Hughes (p. 1222). Prior research has shown that moms' references to mental states predict preschoolers' success, relative to their peers, on such tests. This longitudinal study, of about 100 primarily White British children from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, extends the findings to school-age children. The results also support the notion that moms' input may be especially crucial in the third year of life for children's subsequent understanding of the types of beliefs that underlie sophisticated social interactions.

Children aren't born with set beliefs about learning, but develop them as they grow older. A primary source of influence is how children are raised by their parents, and parents' childrearing goals and beliefs are influenced by their cultural values. So while culture is an integral part of parental socialization, little cross-cultural research has been done on how parents socialize children's learning beliefs. Li, Fung, Bakeman, Rae, and Wei (p. 1206) explored how European American and Taiwanese moms talk to their children about learning—generally speaking, European Americans and Asians have different theories about learning, with Americans emphasizing ability and Asians emphasizing effort. Researchers recorded about 220 conversations between middle-class moms and their 6- to 10-year-old children; moms were asked to recall a time when their children showed a good or poor attitude about learning. They find that European American and Taiwanese mothers talked differently to their children about how the children act when they're learning. European American moms and children talked more about mental activities and positive emotions, and Taiwanese moms and children talked more about learning virtues and negative emotions. The findings reveal a source of cultural differences in children's learning beliefs.

Learning Words

Young children readily learn words from their parents, grandparents, and child care providers in live conversations, but learning from video has proven more difficult. Roseberry, Hirsh-Pasek, and Golinkoff (p. 956) asked why. They find that it's the responsiveness of the interactions that's key: When we respond to children in timely and meaningful ways, they learn—even when that response comes from a screen. Three dozen 2-year-olds were randomly assigned to learn new verbs in one of three ways: Training with a live person, training through video chat technology such as Skype that allows audio and video interaction via screen between users at different locations, and watching a prerecorded video of the same person instructing a different child who was off screen and thus out of synch with the child in the study. Children learned new words only when conversing with a person and in the live video chat, both of which involved responsive, back-and-forth social interactions. They didn't learn the new words through the prerecorded video instruction, which was not responsive to the child. By highlighting the importance of responsive interactions for language learning, the study has implications for language learning.

Speech perception develops rapidly in the first year, as infants learn which sound patterns (consonants, vowels, word stress, etc.) can distinguish words in their native languages. Input from the environment plays a role in shaping speech perception, but the mechanisms that guide this process are unclear. In their study of almost a hundred 9-month-olds, Yeung, Chen, and Werker (p. 1036) find that infants' understanding of word labels and the development of speech perception are linked. Contrary to what we've known before, they find that an understanding of which speech sounds are used to label words may shape infants' perceptions about speech. By bolstering the idea that the richness of parents' speech to infants in the early months can affect even the low-level perceptual processing of speech sounds, the study adds new information to the ongoing issue of how phonological and lexical development are related as babies learn language.

Toddlers use the structure of a sentence to interpret a novel verb. For example, if toddlers hear, “He is mooping the cat,” they assume that mooping is an action with two participants and that someone is acting on a cat. However, if they hear, “He is mooping,” they won't make the same inference. In their study of about 100 French 2-year-olds, Dautriche et al. (p. 1168) find that toddlers can also use a language-specific pattern of intonation while interpreting sentences with a familiar verb. But they don't use the same information in the same way in a more challenging context, such as while learning words, but instead use a more basic strategy, relying on the number of nouns in the sentence.

Verbs may be difficult for young children to learn, since they can refer to a range of aspects of an event, for example, the manner of a motion (such as to skip) or the change of a state (such as to break). So it's important to understand how children typically begin to learn this type of words. Research tells us that gestures can help children link verbs to scenes, but it's unclear whether gestures can link verbs to aspects within a scene—or whether they simply make interactions more engaging. Mumford and Kita (p. 1181) tested whether seeing iconic gestures (gestures that depict what's being referred to, such as when you form your hand into the shape of a phone to indicate you're talking on the telephone) could help 120 British 3-year-olds understand the meaning of new verbs. They find that seeing someone gesture helped children focus on a particular aspect within a complicated scene and thus helped them understand the meaning of an ambiguous novel verb. The study can help educators find better ways to teach new vocabulary, especially to children who are struggling to learn a language.

Peers: Rejection Versus Support

Aggressive or withdrawn adolescents who are also rejected by peers (i.e., disliked by members of their social group) are at risk for maladjustment, including delinquency, depression, and underachievement. This risk appears greatest for adolescents who consistently show these patterns (e.g., aggressive and rejected, or withdrawn and rejected across many years). It remains unclear, however, why persistent rejection increases aggressive or withdrawn adolescents' risk for adjustment problems. In their longitudinal study, Ladd, Ettekal, Kochenderfer-Ladd, Rudolph, and Andrews (p. 971) suggest one explanation for withdrawn adolescents, finding that when these youth experience sustained rejections—being repeatedly ignored, excluded, teased, and treated aggressively by peers—they are more likely to develop negative views of their peers, such as believing that they are, in general, unsupportive and untrustworthy. Once they feel this way, it may be difficult for them to think otherwise and ultimately, may prevent them from developing healthy relationships and lead to adjustment problems. The study, of more than 475 primarily European American youth from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, followed students from fifth through eighth grades. Its findings can inform early intervention programs for withdrawn youth.

Children who are rejected by their peers in school are at risk of developing emotional or internalizing problems, which include anxiety and depressed feelings. However, we know little about why peer rejection has a negative impact on children's emotional development. In their longitudinal work, Spilt, van Lier, Leflot, Onghena, and Colpin (p. 1248) show that peer rejection causes children to believe they're socially unacceptable to others, which in turn makes them increasingly anxious and depressed. However, children's social classroom experiences aren't limited to peers but involve teachers as well. This study, of 570 predominantly White, middle-class second and third graders and 30 teachers from elementary schools in Belgium, also finds partial evidence that individual support from teachers can protect children against the adverse effects of peer rejection. The results have implications for interventions.

Some researchers have suggested that self-esteem is a kind of barometer, reflecting the amount of social support we have. Others have argued that self-esteem is a cause of positive social relationships, with higher self-esteem leading to the development of positive relationships. Marshall, Parker, Ciarrochi, and Heaven (p. 1275) took a longitudinal look at more than 950 Australian adolescents from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds across 5 years starting when they were 13. Findings: Self-esteem was seen as a cause of social support, predicting increased levels of social support quality and social support network size, and the effect was consistent across grades and genders. The results can inform interventions that target low self-esteem in high school students.

Aspects of Attachment

Patterns of adult attachment are similar for African American and European American women pregnant with their first children, and equally predict their sensitivity as mothers in both groups, according to Haltigan et al. (p. 1019). Their longitudinal study used the Adult Attachment Interview to learn about individuals' early experiences with primary caregivers and the effects of those experiences on their current personalities. They studied more than 250 women: Half were African American, half were European American, and they represented a range of socioeconomic statuses. The researchers identified two types of patterns—dismissing (minimizing, downplaying, or idealizing unfortunate early experiences, or claiming not to remember the experiences) and preoccupied (becoming emotionally upset when discussing early experiences with attachment figures), with African American women slightly more likely to show elevations on the latter pattern. In both groups, these distinct ways of talking about early attachment experiences were linked with the women's sensitivity to their own children at 6 months in equal ways. The findings have implications for identifying and treating mental health issues.

Tool Time

A number of primate species use tools and although there are differences in the use of tools by humans and nonhumans, it's unclear when human tool use begins to take on its uniquely human characteristics. Kahrs, Jung, and Lockman (p. 1050) studied the development of hammering in two dozen primarily White, middle-class toddlers, and show that it begins to exhibit its characteristic human form in the third year. By this time, children begin to show relatively greater reliance on their wrists when hammering. Furthermore, among this group of right-handed children, this movement pattern occurred in the right (or dominant) hand first and involved only the right wrist, which mirrors other forms of lateralization in human tool use in the general population. The findings suggest that achieving distinctively human forms of percussive tool use is a gradual process, spanning infancy and early childhood.

STEM Skills

Playing with blocks may be crucial for helping preschoolers develop the kinds of skills that support later learning in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), according to Verdine et al. (p. 1062). And for low-income preschoolers, who lag in spatial skills, such play may be especially helpful. More than a hundred 3-year-olds of various socioeconomic levels took part in the study. Children who were better at copying block structures were also better at early math, the study finds. Among the skills tested were whether children could figure out that a block belongs above or below another block and whether they aligned the pieces. By age 3, children from lower-income families were already falling behind in spatial skills, likely as a result of more limited experience with blocks and other toys and materials that help them develop such skills. And parents of low-income toddlers reported using significantly fewer words (such as “above” and “below”) with their children. The findings have implications for how to help preschoolers, especially those from low-income families, develop skills that will have long-lasting effects on later educational outcomes.

Early math skills are emerging as important to later academic achievement. As many countries seek to strengthen their workforces in the STEM fields, understanding the early contributions to math skills becomes increasingly vital. In a longitudinal study from Finland that looked at 1,880 children in kindergarten through third grade, Zhang et al. (p. 1091) find that children's early spatial skills and knowledge of written letters, rather than oral language skills, predict competence in this area. They also find that children's ability to count sequences of numbers serves as a bridge: Children with stronger early spatial skills and knowledge of written letters did better in counting sequences of numbers; such skill in counting was related to later math competence in general. The study can inform programs to boost competence in math by building young children's spatial and written language skills, and accelerating subsequent number-related knowledge.

Blindness and Pattern Perception

To what extent do blind children use touch to perceive the global or overall structure of patterns together with their local or more detailed shapes? In one of the largest studies to examine the effect of how a history of visual experiences organizes individuals' perceptions, Puspitawati, Jebrane, and Vinter (p. 1077) analyzed data from 110 blind children ages 6 to 18 and 90 sighted, blindfolded children ages 3 to 15 (all children were from Indonesia). They find that development of local and global processing proceeded in similar ways in sighted and in blind children, but local processing continued to occur at high levels over a larger age range in the blind. Moreover, integrated responses increased as a function of age, while local and global responses disappeared as the children grew older. But integrated responses were delayed in the blind children, who continued to produce global and local responses over a larger age range. The findings have implications for parents and teachers of blind children, highlighting the need for educational programs that make it easier to construct a coherent world.

Children and Social Norms

Köymen et al. (p. 1108) investigated children's understanding of social norms by looking at how they enforce rules in interactions with peers. Their study of almost 100 pairs of German 3-, 5-, and 7-year-olds engaged in a sorting game (sorting objects by color and shape) finds that the way 3-year-olds negotiate rules differs from how older children do so: The 3-year-olds didn't distinguish as well as the older children between situations in which they'd received conflicting instructions and those in which they'd received the same instructions (both ways to sort). Because they weren't good at coordinating the rules with their peers, they also protested the actions of their peers in the situation in which they'd received the same two rules as their peers. Moreover, compared to older children, in their negotiations of rules, 3-year-olds insisted on their rule longer and were more reluctant to see an alternative rule as possible. Finally, 3-year-olds (as well as the older children to a lesser extent) were more likely to talk about the rules as if they were unchangeable objective facts than if they were part of a two-person negotiation. The results suggest that children know a lot about social norms, but their initial understanding seems dogmatic and strict.

Inequalities are everywhere, yet we know very little about how children respond to people affected by inequalities. Li, Spitzer, and Olson (p. 1123) explored the interplay between two distinct ways almost 200 primarily White, middle-class 4- and 5-year-olds responded to inequalities—minimizing them and favoring those who are advantaged by them. Children were asked to give something to two recipients—one of whom had already received more than the other. Children were more likely to give to the disadvantaged recipient, but at the same time, they said the advantaged recipient was nicer and that they would prefer befriending the advantaged recipient. The findings of this and other experiments suggest that reducing inequalities through resource allocation appears to require explicit reasoning, whereas tagging people as good or bad based on affective information drives the tendency to favor the advantaged, undermining children's initial intentions to give to the disadvantaged recipient.

Children reason that helping others is important except when it costs too much, according to Sierksma, Thijs, Verkuyten, and Komter (p. 1134), who examined how children reason about helping and how they weigh both the costs of helping and the victim's need. In their study of Dutch children between 8 and 13 years, they find that with age, children are more likely to consider both the cost of helping and the victim's need, which involves weighing multiple factors. By revealing that children's judgments about prosocial behavior are highly contextual, the findings suggest that refusing to help shouldn't be viewed as a social deficit. The study can help those developing programs designed to boost prosocial behavior in children by encouraging them to identify the factors—cost and need—that children have to weigh in deciding whether to help.

Reading: Aptitude and Appetite

Even children of the same age and in the same classroom exhibit strikingly large and stable individual differences in reading ability. Twin studies suggest that these individual differences are genetic. Using a new method with twins in England and Wales, Harlaar, Trzaskowski, Dale, and Plomin (p. 1190) measured genetic effects on reading skill at ages 7 and 12 directly from DNA in unrelated individuals (one twin per pair). From these DNA-based analyses and genetic twin analyses (both twins in each twin pair), they confirm that individual differences in reading in school-age children are partly due to genetic factors. They also find that genetic influences should be looked at not only in terms of children's aptitude but also in terms of their appetites, that is, the extent to which children seek out certain experiences—like reading—based on their genetically inclined proclivities. The study suggests ways to teach children how to read.

Instructional Interactions

Teachers' daily interactions with young children are crucial to making sure they're ready for school, but it's unclear which aspects of interactions are most important to how children do academically and socially. Hamre, Hatfield, Pianta, and Jamil (p. 1257) used a new approach to analyzing data in this area to identify which types of teacher-child interactions support children's learning and development in which areas: It wasn't just the quality of instructional interactions that mattered for children's academic progress. Responsive teaching—teachers' sensitivity in responding to the children as well as their fostering of positive relationships and respect for the children's autonomy—contributed to many aspects of the youngsters' development, including their language and literacy development, but also their ability to remember and the quality of their relationships. The study, of 1,400 preschoolers and 325 early childhood teachers from across the United States, sheds light on a topic that's been the focus of recent reforms in early childhood policy.

Historical Causes

When do children begin to use unseen past events to explain outcomes? In two experiments by Nancekivell and Friedman (p. 1236) involving almost 150 primarily White, middle-class 3- to 5-year-olds, children were shown a picture with an object nearby and told that either the child in the picture owned the object or liked it, or that the child in the picture was using the object. Then the children were asked why, requiring them to provide an explanation. Across both experiments, only the 4- and 5-year-olds incorporated history (information about the object being acquired previously) to explain ownership, but not to explain liking or use. These results suggest that children's explanations become more sophisticated with age, and that they understand that past events are more causally relevant for ownership. Even when information about causes isn't immediately available, the study suggests, children can accurately infer them.

Eyewitness Accounts

When an eyewitness experiences a crime and later is asked to identify a suspect, one factor that may affect the witness' ability to provide an accurate identification is the stress the witness felt either at the time of the event or when he or she is asked to identify the suspect. While many studies have looked at the effects of stress on eyewitness memory in adults, few have investigated how stress affects these capabilities in children. Rush et al. (p. 1292) tested almost 160 children (ages 7–8) and adolescents (ages 12–14) who interacted with a stranger in a low- or high-stress way in a lab, then two weeks later, tried to identify the stranger in a photo lineup. The person administering the lineup behaved in a warm, supportive way or a cold, unsupportive way. Overall stress and supportiveness of the lineup administrator didn't predict children's or adolescents' performance on the lineup when a photo of the stranger was present. But when participants were shown the lineup without a photo of the stranger, those who were stressed in the lab and then questioned by a warm, supportive interviewer were more accurate in saying the stranger's photograph wasn't there than those who were stressed in the lab and questioned by a cold, unsupportive administrator. The results have implications not only for debates about effects of stress on eyewitness recall, but also for how to elicit accurate identifications by children.

Anne Bridgman