1998, Vol. 34. No. 4, 677-686
Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
Child-Rearing Attitudes and Behavioral Inhibition in Chinese
and Canadian Toddlers: A Cross-Cultural Study
University of Western Ontario
Kenneth H. Rubin
University of Maryland College Park
Paul D. Hastings
National Institute of Mental Health
Beijing Normal University
Shanghai Teachers' University
Shannon L. Stewart
University of Waterloo
Behavioral inhibition data were collected from samples of 2-year-olds from the People's Republic
of China and Canada. Information on child-rearing attitudes and beliefs was obtained from mothers
of the children. Chinese Loddlers were significantly more inhibited than their Canadian counterparts.
Inhibition was associated positively with mothers' punishment orientation and negatively with moth-
ers' acceptance and encouragement of achievement in the Canadian sample. However, the directions
of the relations were opposite in the Chinese sample; child inhibition was associated positively with
mothers' warm and accepting attitudes and negatively with rejection and punishment orientation.
The results indicated different adaptational meanings of behavioral inhibition across cultures.
Developmental researchers have reported dramatic individual
differences in behavioral reactions to novel social and nonsocial
situations during infancy and toddlerhood (e.g., Kagan, Rez-
nick, Clarke, Snidman, & Garcia-Coll, 1984; Rubin, Hastings,
Stewart, Henderson, & Chen, 1997). For example, some infants
and toddlers are relaxed and spontaneous and display minimal
distress in unfamiliar situations. In contrast, children who are
identified as behaviorally inhibited and vigilant tend to show
Guest Editor's Note. Gary Ladd served as action editor for this arti-
Xinyin Chen, Department of Psychology, University of Western On-
tario, London, Ontario, Canada; Paul D. Hastings, Section on Develop-
mental Psychopathology, National Institute of Mental Health, Rockville,
Maryland; Kenneth H. Rubin, Department of Human Development, Uni-
versity of Maryland College Park; Huichang Chen, Institute of Develop-
mental Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, People's Repub-
lic of China; Guozhen Cen, Department of Educational Administration,
Shanghai Teachers' University, Shanghai, People's Republic of China;
Shannon L. Stewart, Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo,
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
The research described herein was supported by grants from the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the National
Institute of Mental Health. We are grateful to the children and mothers
for their participation and to the following individuals who aided in the
collection and coding of data: Lan-zhi Liang, Yue-bo Zhang, and Li
Wang at Beijing Normal University; Bo-shu Li, Dan Li, Zhen-yun Li,
and Mowei Liu at Shanghai Teachers" University; and Loretta Lapa,
Kelly Lemon. Jo-Anne McKinnon, Amy Rubin, Alice Rushing, and
Cherami Wischman at the University of Waterloo.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Xinyin
Chen, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, Lon-
don, Ontario, Canada N6A 5C2. Electronic mail may be sent to xchen@
high anxiety in novel social situations; they often refuse to
engage in play behavior with unfamiliar peers and adults, and
they stay in close proximity to their mothers (Fox & Calkins,
1993; Kagan, Reznick, Snidman, Gibbons, & Johnson, 1988;
Rubin et al., 1997). It has been found that behavioral inhibition
is associated with indexes of social wariness during the pre-
school years (Kochanska & Radke-Yarrow, 1992; Rubin,
Coplan, Fox, & Calkins, 1995). Further, researchers have argued
that inhibition and social wariness may serve as dispositional
bases for the display of shy and socially reticent behaviors in
the child and adolescent peer group (Kagan, 1989; Rubin &
Asendorpf, 1993). As such, it may be safe to conclude that
behavioral inhibition may play a critical role in social and emo-
Behavioral patterns that reflect the construct of inhibition and
wariness in novel situations have been found in many cultures,
such as England, Germany, Japan, and Sweden (e.g., Asendorpf,
1991; Broberg, Lamb, & Hwang, 1990; Hayashi, Toyama, &
Quay, 1976; Stevenson-Hinde & Shouldice, 1993). However,
the extent to which inhibited behavior is displayed appears to
vary across culture. For example, it has been reported that Chi-
nese, Indonesian, Thai, and Korean children produce more anx-
ious, sensitive, passive, reticent, and socially restrained behav-
iors in novel situations than do their North American counter-
parts (Chan & Eysenck, 1981: Farver & Howes, 1988; Kagan,
Kearsley & Zelazo, 1978; Tieszen, 1979; Weisz, Suwanlert,
Chaiyasit, & Walter, 1987). Given these differences, it seems
important to examine whether behavioral inhibition carries with
it psychological "meanings" that vary across culture and how
culture is involved in the development of behavioral inhibition.
Initial support for cross-cultural variability in the "mean-
ings" of wary, inhibited behavior derives from recent research
on caregiver-infant attachment relationships. In these studies,
CHEN ET AL.
a high frequency of socially wary behavior in the Strange Situa-
tion has been considered adaptive in some cultures yet maladap-
tive in others (e.g., Grossman & Grossman, 1981; Mizuta, Zahn-
Waxlcr, Cole. & Hirurna, 1996). Acknowledgement of differ-
ences in the adaptational meanings of inhibited behavior is con-
sistent with the perspective that cultural norms and conventions
may affect the perceptions and evaluations of social behaviors
(e.g., Benedict, 1934; Gresham, 1986).
The cross-cultural literature has suggested that child-rearing
beliefs and practices are important factors that may mediate
cultural influences on child development (e.g., Super & Hark-
ness, 1986; Whiting & Edwards, 1988). Parental behaviors and
beliefs are guided by general cultural norms and value systems.
At the same time, parents interpret and respond to child behavior
in accordance with culturally prescribed expectations and so-
cialization goals. Parental attitudes and responses constitute im-
portant social conditions that, in turn, maintain and modify the
processes, pathways, and outcomes of behavioral development.
Thus, the primary purpose of the present study was to examine,
from a cross-cultural perspective, the relations between parental
attitudes and practices in child-rearing and children's behavioral
In Western individualistic cultures, children are encouraged to
be assertive and independent in challenging situations. Acquiring
self-reliance, autonomy, and assertive social skills are important
socialization goals. In contrast, behavioral inhibition, which re-
flects anxiety, an inability lo express one's self, and a lack of
confidence, is generally regarded as socially immature, incom-
petent, and psychologically maladaptive (Rubin & Asendorpf,
1993). Social perceptions and evaluations of children's behav-
iors may depend, in part, on context (e.g., inhibition may serve
as a protective factor that buffers misbehavior under certain
circumstances) and personal characteristics, such as age or de-
velopmental stage (e.g., inhibited behavior may be regarded as
less maladaptive in the early years than in later childhood).
However, during development, children are generally expected
and socialized to be increasingly assertive and self-reliant rather
than reserved and inhibited. Consistently, Western researchers
have found that the early production of behavioral inhibition is
predictive of shy, withdrawn behavior in childhood (Asendorpf,
1991; Broberg et al., 1990; Fox & Calkins, 1993; Kochanska &
Radke-Yarrow, 1992; Reznick et al., 1986; Schwartz, 1997); in
turn, shyness and social withdrawal are associated with peer
rejection and isolation (e.g., Rubin, Chen, McDougall,
Bowker, & McKinnon. 1995). Further, researchers have found
that as children begin to acknowledge their difficulties in social
interactions and peer relationships, they develop negative per-
ceptions of their social competencies and general self-worth as
well as other problems of an internalizing nature (Boivin, Hy-
meh & Bukowski, 1995; Rubin, Chen, & Hymel, 1993: Rubin,
Chen, etal.. 1995).
Achieving and maintaining social order and interpersonal har-
mony are the primary concerns in both traditional and contem-
porary collectivistic Chinese societies. Individuals are encour-
aged to restrain personal desires for the benefits and interests
of the collective. For example, in both Confucian and Taoist
philosophies, behavioral inhibition and self-restraint are consid-
ered indexes of social maturity, accomplishment, and mastery
(Feng, 1962; King & Bond, 1985). The expression of individu-
als' needs or striving for autonomous behaviors is considered
selfish and socially unacceptable (Ho, 1986). Consistently, it
has been found that whereas assertive and independent behaviors
arc valued in Western individualistic cultures, shy and inhibited
behaviors are valued and encouraged in Chinese culture (e.g.,
Chen, in press; Chen, Rubin, & Sun, 1992; Ho, 1986). Children
who are sensitive, wary, cautious, and behaviorally restrained
are called "Guai Hai Zi" in Mandarin, which may be translated
as meaning "good" or ''well-behaved." Unlike their Western
counterparts, shy-anxious children in China are regarded as so-
cially competent and understanding; they are accepted by peers
and adjust well to their social environments (e.g., Chen et ah,
1992; Chen, Rubin, & B. Li, 1995).
The social behaviors valued by a culture may be reflected by
parental goals, beliefs, expectations, and behaviors. For exam-
ple, compared with Western parents, Chinese parents are more
controlling and protective in child rearing (Kriger & Kroes,
1972; Lin & Fu, 1990). Chinese parents emphasize behavioral
control and obedience. Parents often encourage their young chil-
dren to stay close to and to be dependent on them (Ho, 1986).
Indeed, most Chinese infants and toddlers sleep in the same bed
or in the same room as their parents.
Given the aforementioned cultural differences, it is not unrea-
sonable to expect that the patterns of relations between chil-
dren's expressions of behavioral inhibition and parental alti-
tudes and practices would vary in Chinese and North American
cultures. For example, in North America, researchers have re-
ported that preschoolers' wary and inhibited behavior is associ-
ated with such parental emotional reactions as concern, disap-
pointment, guilt, and embarrassment (Mills & Rubin, 1990).
Moreover, it has been found that mothers of inhibited and with-
drawn children are inclined to blame this behavior on traits in
their child (Rubin & Mills, 1990). Such dispositional attribu-
tions for undesirable behavior have been linked lo punitive and
ineffective parenting practices (Crockenbcrg, 1986; Miller,
1995; Peters-Martin & Wachs, 1984). Although researchers have
found that mothers of inhibited children may sometimes display
highly warm and affectionate behavior, these mothers are gener-
ally unresponsive to their children's cues and needs (Rubin et
al., 1997). Parental unresponsiveness and insensitivity, which
may partially result from children's inhibited behavior, may
facilitate the continuation and development of the behavior. Con-
sistent with these findings are data derived from attachment
research that have indicated that insecure, resistant babies ("C"
babies) who typically display anxious, fearful, and inhibited
behavior in the Strange Situation, as well as at home, tend to
have parents who are unresponsive, unreliable, and inconsistent
in parenting (e.g., Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978;
Peclerson & Moran, 1995). Unlike mothers of avoidant babies
("A" babies), mothers of anxious, resistant babies may not be
hostile or rejecting of their children (Ainsworth et al.. 1978).
Inhibited children may experience a different social and emo-
tional family environment in China. Because inhibited behavior
is positively valued and considered adaptive, behaviorally inhib-
ited children may not be recipients of negative parental emotions
and behaviors. Indeed, in the present study, we expected that
inhibited children would be accepted and supported by their
parents. Further, parental acceptance, endorsement, and encour-
agement of inhibited behavior may reinforce the display of re-
SPECIAL ISSUE: BEHAVIORAL INHIBITION
strained and inhibited behavior. Thus, first, we hypothesized
that behavioral inhibition would be associated positively with
maternal acceptance and negatively with maternal rejection and
punishment in Chinese children. In contrast, we predicted that
inhibition would be associated negatively with maternal accep-
tance among Canadian children. Given that mothers of anxious,
inhibited children are generally not hostile toward or rejecting
of the child, inhibited behavior was not predicted (o be associ-
ated with maternal rejection in Canadian toddlers.
In both Chinese and North American cultures, parents empha-
size and encourage achievement in child rearing. However, the
goals and specific tasks that children are encouraged to achieve
may be defined and prescribed by what is valued in the culture.
In other words, parental encouragement of achievement may
indicate cultural values. To further examine cultural meanings
of behavioral inhibition, we sought to investigate how inhibition
was associated with maternal encouragement of achievement.
Given that behavioral inhibition is regarded as maladaptive in
North American cultures, we posited that inhibition would be
negatively associated with maternal encouragement of achieve-
ment. However, because inhibition is consistent with socializa-
tion goals and thus positively evaluated in China, we expected
that inhibited behavior would be positively associated with ma-
ternal encouragement of achievement.
Researchers have reported that Chinese parents are more pro-
tective and controlling and less encouraging of independence
and exploration than are North American parents (e.g., Ekblad,
1986; Lin & Fu, 1990). It has also been noted that children of
highly protective, oversolicitous Western parents tend to display
more wary and reserved behavior in unfamiliar situations (e.g.,
Eisenberg, 1958; Kagan & Moss, 1962; Parker, 1983; Rubin et
al., 1997; Rubin & Mills, 1990). Indeed, highly protective and
directive parents tend to be "overly" involved and dominant in
parent-child interactions; they are less likely to encourage their
children to explore independently in novel environments (Parker,
1983). It may be true that highly protective and directive behav-
ior represents a good "fit" with the authoritarian culture of
China but is viewed as maladaptive in Western cultures (Chao,
1994). Nevertheless, given the restrictive nature of this parenting
behavior, we expected that it would be positively associated
with child behavioral inhibition in both Chinese and Canadian
children. Consistently, we hypothesized that regardless of the
culture, maternal encouragement of independence and autonomy
would be negatively related to behavioral inhibition in children.
Finally, according to the "suppression-facilitation" model
(Weiszet al., 1987), cultural environments may affect the occur-
rence and prevalence of social behaviors in a direct fashion.
Given that the Chinese cultural milieu is conducive for the devel-
opment of behavioral inhibition and that inhibition is discour-
aged in the West, we predicted that consistent with Kagan et
al.'s (1978) findings, Chinese toddlers would display more in-
hibited and wary behavior in novel social situations than Cana-
One hundred and fifty Chinese children in two cities of the People's
Republic of China and 108 Canadian children in a regional municipality
of approximately 250,000 people in southwestern Ontario participated
in this study. The mean age was 24.64 months (SD = 1.99) for the
Chinese and 24.99 months (SD = 1.08) for the Canadian children.
Mothers were, on average, 30 years 11 months old (SD = 4 years 3
months; range = 24-39) and fathers were 32 years old (SD = 3 years
2 months; range = 26-48) in the Chinese sample. The mean age was
31 years 1 month (SD = 4 years 1 month; range = 23-41) for mothers
and 32 years 6 months (SD — 3 years 11 months; range = 24-43) for
fathers in the Canadian sample. The participants were randomly selected
by newspaper birth announcements and recruited through telephone so-
licitation in Canada and local birth registration offices in China. Ninety-
seven percent of the Canadian toddlers were Caucasian, and all partici-
pants in China were Chinese.
In the Chinese sample, 44% of the children were from families in
which parents were workers or peasants whose educational levels were
high school or below high school; 56% of the children were from fami-
lies in which one or both of the parents were teachers, doctors, or
officials whose educational levels ranged mainly from college to univer-
sity graduate. Canadian children were mainly from middle-class fami-
lies. Eighty-one percent of the Canadian toddlers had one or more sib-
lings. However, because of the "one-child-per-family" policy that was
implemented in the late 1970s, 96% of the Chinese toddlers were only
children; the "only" child phenomenon has been an integral part of the
family and sociocultural background for child development in contempo-
rary China. Thirty-three percent of the Chinese children and 24% of the
Canadian children had out-of-home day-care experience. Nonsignificant
differences were found between children with different day-care experi-
ences in each sample on behavioral inhibition and parental child-rearing
attitudes. The two samples were representative of the urban population
of toddlers in each country. Complete child-rearing data were obtained
from mothers of 118 Chinese (64 boys and 54 girls) and 82 Canadian
(43 boys and 39 girls) toddlers. The mothers of other children filled the
child-rearing measure either incompletely or incorrectly.
Mothers and toddlers were invited to visit the university laboratory
within 3 months of each toddler's 2nd birthday. During the visit, each
toddler-mother dyad experienced an adapted version of the Behavioral
Inhibition Paradigm (e.g., Garcia-Coll, Kagan, & Reznick. 1984; Ko-
chanska, 1991). First, each dyad entered an unfamiliar room comprising
one large and one small chair and a low table. The child was allowed
to play with an assortment of attractive toys for 10 min while the mother
sat in the large chair and filled oul a questionnaire (free play). The
experimenter, whom the child had already met, entered with a basket,
asked the child to tidy up the toys, and left (cleanup); afterward, the
experimenter removed the toys. Next, an unfamiliar woman entered the
room with a toy dump truck and some blocks. She sat quietly for 1
min, played with the truck for 1 min. then (if the toddler had not yet
approached), encouraged the child to join her in play. After the 3rd min,
she left, returning with a toy robot that moved and made noises. The
adult did not say anything for 30 s, then invited the child to play with
the robot for 1 min. The toy truck and robot were identical in all
laboratories. These toys were all made in China and were purchased in
a Canadian store. The children in both cultures were familiar with toy
trucks. However, according to product description, the black, noisy, and
"smoking" toy robot was recommended for children aged 4 years and
up; thus, it was unlikely to be familiar to the toddlers in the two samples.
Therefore, the procedure was viewed as equally novel-familiar to the
Chinese and Canadian children. Toddlers in each sample continued to
experience other sessions, including crawling through an inflatable tun-
nel, interacting with a clown (or a person wearing a tiger mask in
China), and a second free-play session. Because there were slight varia-
tions between the samples with regard to these latter laboratory sessions,
data were not examined comparatively for the present article.
CHEN ET AL.
The administration of the laboratory sessions was conducted by
Xinyin Chen et al. as well as by graduate and senior undergraduate
students in China and Canada. The researchers in China were trained
by Xinyin Chen. All laboratory sessions were videotaped through a one-
way mirror and were coded in Canada. Written consent was obtained
from parents of all participants in Canada and in China.
Following procedures that were described in Garcia-Coll et al. (1984)
and Rubin et al. ( 1997), behavioral inhibition was coded on the basis
of the amount of time the toddler spent in physical contact with his or
her mother during the free-play, truck and robot episodes, and the child's
latency to approach the stranger and to touch the toys. Four data points
were obtained for the truck episode; during the 1st and 2nd min, the
duration of contact with the mother and the latency to spontaneously
approach the unfamiliar adult were recorded. During the 3rd min, the
duration of contact with the mother and the latency to approach the
unfamiliar adult were recorded after an invitation to approach was given
(for children who approached the stranger spontaneously in the 1st and
2nd min, latency was scored as zero). Two data points were obtained
for the subsequent robot episode: duration of contact with the mother
and latency to touch the robot. Four inhibition scores were computed:
(a) duration of contact with the mother in free play, (b) duration of
contact with the mother in truck and robot episodes, fc) latency to
approach the stranger, and (d) latency to touch robot. Following the
procedures described by Rubin et al. (1997), the inhibition scores were
standardized and aggregated and were used in all statistical analyses.
The data for Chinese toddlers were coded by two Chinese students
in the Psychology Department of a Canadian university who were fluent
in both English and Chinese languages. The data for the Canadian sample
were coded by two English-speaking students. All coders were trained
following the same procedures. Reliability, using percentage of agree-
ment, was computed for 10% of each sample. As suggested by other
researchers (e.g., Garcia-Coll et al.. 1984), intercoder agreement for
duration of contact with the mother and latency to approach the unfamil-
iar adult or toys were calculated through dividing the amount of time
of agreement by the total amount of time of agreement and disagreement
in seconds. The intercoder reliability for the inhibition behaviors was
96%, ranging from 93% (contact with mother in the robot episode) to
100% (contact with mother in free play) in the Chinese sample, and
90%, ranging from 80% (contact with mother in free play) to 97%
(contact with mother in the truck episode) in the Canadian sample.
Bach mother completed the Child-Rearing Practices Report Q-Sort
(CRPR; Block, 1981). The CRPR includes 91 items describing child-
rearing attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors, written on individual
cards. Mothers sorted the cards into seven piles (13 cards each), from
"least descriptive" to "most descriptive." Consequently, item scores
ranged from 1 (least descriptive) to 7 (most descriptive). The Chinese
version of the CRPR was translated and back-translated by the research
team. The procedure has established reliability and validity in Western
and in some other cultures (e.g., Zahn-Waxier, Friedman, Cole, Mi-
zuta, & Hiruma, 1996). The CRPR has been used and has been proven
reliable, valid, and appropriate in Chinese samples (Chen, Dong, &
Zhou, 1997; Lin & Fu, 1990). In the present study, indexes of acceptance
(e.g., "My child and I have warm, intimate times together."), rejection
(e.g., "I often feel angry with my child."), encouragement of achieve-
ment (e.g., "1 think a child should be encouraged to do things better
than others."), encouragement of independence (e.g., "If my child gets
into trouble, I expect him or her to handle the problem mostly by
himself or herself.1'), punishment orientation (e.g., "I believe physical
punishment to be the best way of disciplining."), and protection and
concern (e.g., "I try to stop my child from playing rough games or
doing things where he or she might get hurt.") were formed based both
on previously published research (e.g., Block, 1981; Lin & Fu, 1990)
and un iterative processes of discussion in our collaborative Canadian-
Chinese research group. The score of each child-rearing variable was
computed through dividing the total item score by the number of items
in the category. Correlations among child-rearing variables were gener-
ally low (rs < .30) in the Canadian sample. However, there were moder-
ate to high correlations among maternal acceptance, encouragement of
achievement, and encouragement of independence and between maternal
rejection and punishment orientation (rs = .60s to .70s) in the Chinese
sample. This might indicate relatively lower discriminant construct va-
lidity of the measure in the Chinese sample.
The means and standard deviations of inhibition scores for
each sample are presented in Table I. The results indicated that
Chinese toddlers spent significantly more time than the Cana-
dian toddlers in direct physical contact with their mothers during
the free-play episode. Moreover, Chinese toddlers had signifi-
cantly higher scores on latency to approach the stranger and to
touch the robot. In addition, the percentage of toddlers who
made contact with their mothers in the free-play and truck and
robot episodes in the Chinese sample was significantly greater
than that in the Canadian sample. There were significantly more
children in the Chinese sample than in the Canadian sample who
did not approach the stranger or touch the robot. Percentages of
children in each sample who contacted the mother, did not ap-
proach the stranger, or touch the robot are presented in Table 2.
There were nonsignificant sex differences in inhibition scores
in both samples. The mean scores for boys and girls were as
follows: (a) contact with mother in free play: 20.99 and 19.63
(SDR = 45.46 and 35.74) in the Chinese sample and 10.00 and
7.74 (SDs = 31.25 and 24.55) in the Canadian sample; (b)
contact with mother in truck-robot: 36.62 and 40.59 (SDs —
58.68 and 61.55) in the Chinese sample and 34.35 and 23.20
(SDs = 62.43 and 54.02) in the Canadian sample; (c) latency
to approach stranger: 29.64 and 28.62 (SDs - 18.92 and 16.95)
in the Chinese sample and 19.97 and 21.40 (SDs = 16.87 and
15.47) in the Canadian sample; and (d) latency to touch robot:
29.25 and 30.06 (SD = 16.41 and 15.61) in the Chinese sample
and 17.14 and 17.68 (SD - 11.74 and 11.56) in the Canadian
The means and standard deviations for the child-rearing vari-
ables are presented in Table 3. A multivariate analysis of vari-
ance (MANOYA) revealed significant overall effects for culture
groups (between factor), F(\, 196) = 51.06, p < .001, child-
rearing attitudes (within factor), F(5, 192) = 85.05, p < .001,
and the Culture Group X Child-Rearing (within-factor) interac-
tion, F(5, 192) - 41.91, p < .001. The results of follow-up t
tests indicated that Chinese mothers had significantly lower
scores on Acceptance than the Canadian mothers. Chinese moth-
ers had significantly higher scores on Rejection, Encouragement
of Achievement, Punishment Orientation, and Protection and
Concern than Canadian mothers. Post hoc analyses of the within-
SPECIAL ISSUE: BEHAVIORAL INHIBITION
Means and Standard Deviations of Inhibition Scores
Contact with mother in free play
Contact with mother in truck/robot
Latency to approach stranger
Latency to touch robot
**/J < .01. ***/> < .001.
factor effect in each sample, using the Tukey honestly significant
difference (HSD) approach, revealed that scores of Encourage-
ment of Achievement and Encouragement of Independence were
significantly higher than those of Acceptance and Protection,
which, in turn, were higher than those of Rejection and Punish-
ment Orientation in the Chinese sample. In the Canadian sample,
scores of Acceptance and Encouragement of Independence were
significantly higher than those of Encouragement of Achieve-
ment and Protection. These scores were significantly higher than
those of Punishment and Rejection.
Relations Between Toddler Inhibition and
A series of regression analyses were first conducted to exam-
ine the effects of sex on the relations between toddler inhibition
and child-rearing variables. Nonsignificant sex effects were
found. Thus, the data were combined across sex for all analyses.
Correlations between toddler inhibition and child-rearing vari-
ables were computed for each sample and compared with the
Fisher transformation. The results are presented in Table 4. Tod-
dler inhibition was significantly and positively correlated with
maternal acceptance and encouragement of achievement in the
Chinese sample but significantly and negatively correlated with
these same child-rearing variables in the Canadian sample. The
differences between the corresponding correlations in the two
samples were significant. Inhibition was significantly and nega-
tively correlated with punishment orientation in the Chinese
sample but significantly and positively correlated with punish-
ment orientation in the Canadian sample. The two correlations
were significantly different. Inhibition was significantly and
negatively correlated with maternal rejection in the Chinese
sample; this correlation was nonsignificant in the Canadian sam-
Percentage of Children Who Contacted Mother
or Did Not Approach Stranger
Contacted mother in free play
Contacted mother in truck/robot
Did not approach stranger
Did not touch robot
pie. The difference between the two correlations was significant.
Inhibition was significantly and positively correlated with en-
couragement of independence in the Chinese sample; this corre-
lation was nonsignificant in the Canadian sample. Finally, child
inhibition was significantly and positively correlated with moth-
er's protection and concern in the Canadian sample; this correla-
tion was nonsignificant in the Chinese sample.1
Behavioral inhibition, as one of the fundamental dimensions
of human social functioning, may have pervasive and prolonged
effects on adaptive and maladaptive development (e.g., Caspi,
Elder, & Bern, 1988; Kagan, 1989; Kern Lambert, & Bern,
1996). Individual differences in behavioral inhibition have been
observed in many cultures (e.g., Asendorpf, 1994; Broberg et
al., 1990; Kagan et al., 1978), thereby suggesting that it may
be a universal phenomenon. Nevertheless, human inhibitory be-
havioral systems operate within social and cultural contexts
(Buck, 1993; Rickman & Davidson, 1994). Culture imparts
meanings to the behavior; determines how individuals, including
parents and peers, perceive, evaluate, and react to the behavior;
and eventually regulates and directs the developmental processes
of the behavior. Tt was our intention, in the present study, to
explore the possibility of differences in the expression of behav-
ioral inhibition among Chinese and Canadian toddlers and to
examine the relations between inhibition and mother's child-
rearing philosophies and practices. The results of the study indi-
cated that (a) Chinese toddlers were more inhibited than their
Canadian age-mates; (b) Chinese and Canadian mothers dif-
fered in their socialization values and parenting practices; and
(c) child inhibition was associated with mothers' positive atti-
tudes toward the child, including acceptance, lack of punitive-
ness, and encouragement of achievement among Chinese partici-
pants and with punishment and overprotectiveness among Cana-
It has long been argued that parents in different cultures may
have different beliefs about and use different practices in child
rearing (Super & Harkness, 1986; Whiting & Edwards, 1988).
Consistent with this notion, we found that Chinese mothers were
1 We identified, in each sample, groups of highly inhibited (top 15%),
highly uninhibited (bottom 15%), and average (middle 70%) children
and compared them on mothers' child-rearing practices. The results were
consistent with those in the correlational analyses.
CHEN ET AL.
Means and Standard Deviations of Parenting Scores
Encouragement of achievement
Encouragement of independence
Protection and concern
.05. **p < .01. ***/> < .001.
(a) more likely to encourage children to achieve, (b) more
protective of and concerned about their children, (c) more re-
jecting and less accepting of their children, and (d) more punish-
ment oriented than Canadian mothers. These results were largely
consistent wilh previous reports (Chao, 1994; Kriger & Kroes,
1972; Lin & Fu, 1990; Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992;
Stevenson et al., 1990).
According to the Confucian doctrine of filial piety, children
must pledge absolute obedience and reverence to parents. In
turn, parents are responsible for "governing" (i.e., teaching
and disciplining) their children and are held accountable for
their children's failure. The principle of filial piety stipulates
(a) parental authority in using coercive parenting strategies,
including power-assertion and physical punishment, and, at the
same time, (b) parental responsibility to protect the child and
to encourage the child to achieve. In China, child achievement
is not just an issue for the individual; rather, it is viewed as a
reflection of family reputation. It has been reported that Chinese
children are pressured heavily by parents to perform optimally
in preschool, kindergarten, and school (Stevenson et al., 1990);
children who fail to achieve the adults' standards are often re-
garded as problematic and receive severe punishment (Wu &
Tseng, 1985). The results of our study suggest that Chinese
parents might be concerned about achievement when their chil-
dren arc very young. Relatively high levels of punitiveness and
protectiveness in Chinese mothers might reflect a desire for
maintaining their authority while simultaneously wishing to en-
sure a safe and appropriate milieu for their children.
In contrast, it appeared that Canadian mothers were somewhat
less concerned with encouraging their toddlers to achieve. The
Correlations Between Child-Rearing Attitudes and Inhibition
(ff = 118)
(n - 82) Z
Encouragement of achievement
Encouragement of independence
Protection and concern
*p < .05. ** p < .01.
lower levels of punishment and protectiveness among Canadian
mothers might reflect a Western perspective that early behaviors
may not have an enduring impact on later development (Rubin &
Mills, 1992). These results might also indicate the general disap-
proval of intrusive and power-assertive strategies in North Amer-
Consistent with the result concerning punishment orientation,
Chinese mothers were found to be less accepting and more
rejecting of their children. The differences in mothers' attitudes
toward the child might reflect different cultural values on af-
fective involvement in child rearing, as acceptance included
warmth and rejection captured elements of coldness and anger.
Because of the high emphasis on parental control and direc-
tiveness in Chinese culture, Chinese parents may be less likely
than Western parents to perceive the importance of positive af-
fect for child social and cognitive development. As a result,
children and adults engage in few overt emotional and affective
interchanges in China and in other Asian countries (Lin & Fu,
1990; Mizutaet al., 1996). Indeed, Asian cultures strongly value
the need for behavioral and emotional control and the restriction
of emotional expression during interpersonal interactions;
highly expressive individuals are often regarded as poorly regu-
lated and socially immature (Ho, 1986). The control of emo-
tional and affective reactions in parent-child interactions and
relationships may also be due to the requirement of maintaining
parental authority. The Chinese family is often hierarchical in
structure and authoritarian in organization; as authority figures,
parents may find it difficult to engage in intimate communication
and to express affection explicitly to their children. Parental
power assertion with little affective involvement may lead to a
low level of parental warmth and eventually be manifested as
parental rejection (Rohner, 1986). Recent research has indicated
that, in spite of differences on the average level of parental
power assertion and warmth, these parenting attitudes and prac-
tices have similar meanings in child development in Chinese
and Western cultures (Chen, Dong, & Zhou, 1997; Chen, Ru-
bin, & Li, 1997; Rohner, 1986). Obviously, it is important to
investigate this issue further.
Given the cultural emphasis on independence in Western indi-
vidualistic cultures, it would be reasonable to expect that Cana-
dian mothers have higher scores than Chinese mothers on en-
couragement of independence. However, a nonsignificant differ-
ence was found between the two samples on this variable.
Similar results were reported in a previous study (e.g., Lin &
SPECIAL ISSUE; BEHAVIORAL INHIBITION
Fu, 1990). According to Lin and Fu, encouragement of indepen-
dence is believed by many Chinese parents to be important for
the development of social competence and achievement. Further,
it has been argued that, like Western mothers, Chinese mothers
may realize that to adjust to the changing demands of contempo-
rary society, one needs to be independent and adaptable (Lin &
Fu, 1990). This may be the case particularly in urban China
today, as the recent "economic reforms" in the country may
lead to increasing westernization of parental child-rearing atti-
tudes (Liu et al., 1996).
Tt should be noted that although there were cross-cultural
differences on the average level of specific child-rearing dimen-
sions, the general patterns of the ranking order of these dimen-
sions were highly similar in the two samples. Both Chinese and
Canadian mothers scored highest on encouragement of indepen-
dence, encouragement of achievement, and acceptance and
scored lowest on punishment and rejection. The cross-cultural
similarities in child-rearing beliefs and behaviors may indicate
important common experiences of socialization in human beings
(Chen & Kaspar, in press; LeVine, 1988). Of course, the cross-
cultural differences and similarities were based mainly on the
child-rearing dimensions included in this study. Conclusions
concerning cross-cultural socialization patterns beyond these di-
mensions should be drawn with caution.
In summary, although Chinese and Canadian mothers differed
in specific parenting styles, there were cross-cultural similarities
in the general patterns of the organization and the integration
of child-rearing beliefs and practices. Such group-level cultural
differences and similarities provided valuable information con-
cerning the cultural environments in which children live, behave,
and develop. Nevertheless, it is also important to examine the
relations between parenting styles and child behavior at the
intracultural level. Within-culture analyses in the present study
revealed that the patterns of the associations between maternal
child-rearing attitudes and practices and toddler inhibition were
significantly different in the Chinese and Canadian samples. In
the Canadian sample, it was found that inhibition was associated
positively with mothers' punishment orientation and negatively
with mothers' acceptance and encouragement of achievement.
However, the directions of the relations were opposite in the
Chinese sample; child inhibition was associated positively with
acceptance and encouragement of achievement and negatively
with rejection and punishment orientation. The correlations were
weak in magnitude within each sample. However, the differences
in the nature and the directions of the relations were rather
As indicated in the Western literature (e.g., Jones & Carpen-
ter, 1986: Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993), inhibited children in North
America are regarded as incompetent and immature and appear
to require direction and protection. Mothers may not approve
of their toddler's inhibited behavior, and they may express their
dissatisfaction and disappointment through the demonstration
of low acceptance and high punishment. These reactions were
evident in the findings of this study; mothers of inhibited tod-
dlers in the Canadian sample were generally less accepting of
their children and more likely to endorse the use of punishment
in child rearing than mothers of less inhibited toddlers.
Unlike their Canadian counterparts, inhibited children in
China tended to be accepted by their mothers. These results
were consistent with the earlier findings concerning the relations
between shy-inhibited behavior and peer acceptance in Chinese
and Canadian children and adolescents (Chen et al., 1992; Chen,
Rubin, & B. Li, 1995; Chen, Rubin, & Z. Li, 1995). Earlier
studies reported, for example, that whereas shyness and inhibi-
tion were associated with peer rejection and social adjustment
difficulties in North America, shyness and inhibition, as ex-
pressed frequently in China, were correlated with peer and
teacher acceptance as well as wilh markers of psychological
adjustment during childhood and adolescence (e.g., Chen, Ru-
bin, & B. Li, 1995; Chen, Rubin, & Z. Li, 1995). Together,
cumulative evidence indicates that behavioral inhibition is a
culturally bound construct and thus may have different adapta-
tional * "meanings" across cultures.
As has been noted in other studies (Eiscnberg, 1958; Kagan &
Moss, 1962; Parker, 1983), Western mothers who are highly
protective tend to have inhibited children. Researchers have ar-
gued that these mothers arc extremely concerned for their chil-
dren's well-being and, to meet their goals of child protection,
they restrict their children's activities to the point at which the
children do not enjoy adequate opportunities to develop comfort,
confidence and skills in novel situations (Rubin & Mills, 1992;
Rubin et al., 1997). Protective mothers may see their children
as particularly vulnerable and thus tend to shield their children
from perceived dangers. Thus, children's high levels of inhibi-
tion may be either a cause or a consequence, or both, of mothers'
heightened protectiveness. Because inhibited behavior is accept-
able and encouraged in China, it may be understandable that it
did not correlate with maternal concern and protection, despite
our initial expectations.
We hypothesized that maternal encouragement of indepen-
dence would be negatively associated with toddler inhibition in
both samples. This hypothesis was not supported in the study.
The results indicated that maternal encouragement of indepen-
dence was nonsignificantly correlated with inhibition in Cana-
dian children and positively correlated with inhibition in Chi-
nese children. It has been found that Chinese parents believe
encouragement of independence is important for child develop-
ment (Lin & Fu, 1990; Liu et al., 1996). If independence is
indeed considered an index of adaptation in China today, as
argued by Lin and Fu, it is conceivable that children whose
mothers emphasized independence would display the behavior
that is encouraged by Chinese mothers. Further investigation is
clearly needed on this issue.
It was found that there was a higher overlap among the CRPR
dimensions in the Chinese sample than in the Canadian sample.
This suggested that the measure might have relatively lower
discriminant validity in the Chinese sample. Similar findings
have been reported in previous studies (e.g., Zahn-Waxler et
al., 1996). Thus, it may be appropriate to understand our results
in terms of the general patterns: that is, the associations of
inhibited behavior with maternal positive parenting attitudes in
China and maternal concern and power assertion in Canada.
The results of the present study indicated that Chinese tod-
dlers were more inhibited than Canadian toddlers. Although
dispositional factors may account for part of the cross-cultural
variability in early inhibition (Kagan et al., 1978), our study
reveals the importance of recognizing the role of culturally me-
diated socialization beliefs and practices in the development of
CHEN ET AL.
inhibition. The interactions between parental beliefs and atti-
tudes and children's inhibited behavior may indicate goodness-
of-fit processes at the cultural level.
Behavioral inhibition to novelty is considered a dispositional
characteristic thai may be biologically rooted (Kagan, 1989).
It is unclear at this time how the cross-cultural differences in
inhibition are reflected at the biological or physiological level.
Some initial evidence has indicated that Chinese and European
American children differ in autonomic nervous system, such as
heart rate variability in novel situations (Kagan et al., 1978).
However, it is unknown whether there are differences in regula-
tory processes, such as frontal brain activities (Fox et al., 1995),
which may be particularly relevant to socialization experiences.
In both Chinese and Western cultures, girls have been found
to be more shy and inhibited than boys in middle and lale
childhood and adolescence (e.g., Chen, Rubin, & B. Li, 1995).
It is interesting that nonsignificant sex differences were found
on behavioral inhibition in both the Chinese and the Canadian
toddlers in the present study. Nonsignificant sex differences in
inhibition during toddlerhood and early childhood have also
been found in previous studies (Broberg et al., 1990; Kochan-
ska, 1991). These findings suggest that socialization may play
an important role in the emergence of sex differences in shyness
in later childhood. Thus, future research would do well to exam-
ine how socialization factors differentially influence the display
of shy behavior in girls and boys within and across cultures.
Like many other countries in the world, China is undergoing
dramatic changes. Western values and ideologies have been in-
troduced to the country along with advanced technology. In
addition, Chinese family structure and organization have
changed (Chen, in press). Thus, in the future years, it will be
important to investigate how societal and family changes may
influence socialization patterns and children's behaviors.
Finally, it should be noted that an interactional model con-
cerning parenting and child inhibition was applied as a concep-
tual framework for this study. Nevertheless, the data presented
herein were correlational, thereby precluding any statements
about causality. To better understand how child-rearing beliefs,
attitudes, and practices and child inhibition may interact in a
cultural context, longitudinal data are necessary. Further, it re-
mains important to investigate, intra- and cross-culturally, how
early inhibition and socialization contribute independently and
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Received January 8, 1997
Revision received July 7, 1997
Accepted July 9, 1997 •