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Examining Relations Between Parental Behaviour, Children’s Characteristics, and Children's Executive Function in Early and Middle Childhood

  • Author / Creator
    Vrantsidis, Daphne Maria
  • Parental behaviour is an important predictor of executive function (EF) in early childhood and the transition to middle childhood. Yet, not all children are equally impacted by parental behaviour. This dissertation examined interactions and bidirectional relations between parental behaviours and children’s characteristics (genotype and EF) on children’s EF. Emerging research suggests that parental behaviour and child genotype interact to predict EF in early childhood, birth to age 5. The first study in this dissertation systematically reviewed research on gene × parental behaviour interactions on children’s EF in early childhood. Psychology and psychiatry databases were searched for potentially relevant studies. A total of 17 published peer-reviewed studies met inclusion criteria. Of the 17 studies, 13 (76%) reported at least one significant gene × parental behaviour interaction on children’s EF, although only 24 of 51 (47%) interactions were significant. Studies were heterogenous in terms of sample composition; measurement of genes, parental behaviour, and EF; statistical methods; and power. This made it difficult to compare findings and evaluate the strength of the evidence for gene × parental behaviour interactions on EF. To better understand the role of gene × parental behaviour interactions in the development of children’s EF, future research should aim to reduce heterogeneity by adopting more rigorous study designs and methods. The second study in this dissertation examined (1) whether the interactions between cumulative dopaminergic genetic risk and problematic discipline and responsiveness were associated with children’s EF, and (2) whether the forms of the interactions were consistent with the diathesis-stress or differential susceptibility model of gene × environment interaction. Participants were 135 36-month-old children and their mothers drawn from a prospective cohort followed longitudinally from pregnancy. Children were genotyped for dopamine active transporter 1 (DAT1), dopamine receptor D2 (DRD2), dopamine receptor D4 (D2D4), and iii catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), and scored on the number of risk alleles they carried. Maternal problematic discipline and responsiveness were coded during a series of structured mother-child interactions. EF was operationalized as self-control and working memory/inhibitory control. Path analysis suggested there was an interaction between genetic risk and problematic discipline on self-control, but not working memory/inhibitory control. Higher problematic discipline was associated with poorer self-control for children with higher genetic risk scores. Results were consistent with the diathesis-stress model, suggesting that children at higher genetic risk may be more vulnerable to the negative effect of problematic discipline. This has implications for developmental psychopathology: Problematic discipline may increase the risk for developing behaviour problems in children at higher genetic risk via its association with poorer self-control. Children with poorer EF are thought to elicit harsher discipline from their caregivers, with the use of harsh discipline predicting poorer EF. Children with better EF are argued to elicit more appropriate discipline techniques, such as inductive discipline, that support the development of EF. Further, parental behaviour may differentially predict child outcomes depending on children’s developmental stage. Study 3 examined bidirectional relations between parental discipline and children’s EF, operationalized as inhibitory control, and child age as a moderator of these relations. Participants were 136 4- to 6-year-olds and their primary caregiver. At two timepoints, separated by 12 months, children completed a battery of inhibitory control tasks and parents completed a questionnaire about their use of harsh and inductive discipline. A latent change score model did not find support for bidirectional relations between parental discipline and children’s inhibitory control or for age as a moderator of these relations. Results iv did not support bidirectional relations between parental discipline and children’s inhibitory control during the transition to middle childhood. This dissertation adds to the literature on the role of interactions and bidirectional relations between parental behaviour and children’s characteristics in the development of EF in early childhood and the transition to middle childhood. In the first two studies, parental behaviour and child genotype interacted to predict children’s EF. In the third study, there were no significant bidirectional relations between parental discipline and children’s inhibitory control. These results suggest that not all children are equally impacted by parental behaviour. A more nuanced understanding of how children’s characteristics shape how they are impacted by parental behaviour may allow researchers to identify which children’s developing EF may be adversely impacted by or benefit from particular parental behaviours.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-xgt1-ch23
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.