Psychological and Brain Sciences Colloquium: Grazyna Kochanska
Psychological and Brain Sciences Departmental Colloquium
Grazyna Kochanska, Stuit Professor of Developmental Psychology, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Iowa
Early Relational Experience: A Foundation for the Unfolding Dynamics of Parent-Child Socialization
Why do some children embark on positive paths toward prosocial, rule-abiding, self-regulated conduct, whereas others enter maladaptive paths toward callous, antisocial, disruptive behavior and disregard for rules and others’ feelings? To understand why trajectories of socialization can unfold so differently in individual parent-child dyads has been a perennial goal in developmental science. Scholars inspired by the learning approach to development have detailed an important cascade commonly emerging over time for children with biologically based difficult temperaments. According to that approach, such children evoke parents’ coercive, harsh, power-assertive control, which, in turn, leads to negative, maladaptive child outcomes. Many studies have supported that model; overall, however, empirical evidence is far from consistent.
Research in my laboratory has demonstrated that although the learning account is very valuable, it has important limitations. We argue that its portrayal of development is incomplete, because it largely ignores the role of very early parent-child relationships. For almost three decades, we have examined subtle, yet enduring impact of those relationships, and have come to see them as key in setting the stage for future socialization processes. Across several longitudinal studies of low- and high-risk families, correlational and experimental designs, multiple ages, and diverse measures, we have demonstrated that early relationships can substantially alter cascades from the child’s difficult temperament to parents’ harsh control to negative child outcomes. Those adversarial cascades unfold only in parent-child dyads whose early relationships lacked positive mutuality and security. In contrast, in mutually positive, secure early relationships, such cascades appear defused; instead, a cooperative, effective socialization
process is set in motion. Our current research seeks to elucidate in more depth possible developmental mechanisms that may explain how such divergent sequelae unfold. In particular, we investigate the role of parents’ and children’s emerging internal representations of each other.