Article

Normal Variation in Early Parental Sensitivity Predicts Child Structural Brain Development

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Abstract

Objective: Early caregiving can have an impact on brain structure and function in children. The influence of extreme caregiving experiences has been demonstrated, but studies on the influence of normal variation in parenting quality are scarce. Moreover, no studies to date have included the role of both maternal and paternal sensitivity in child brain maturation. This study examined the prospective relation between mothers' and fathers' sensitive caregiving in early childhood and brain structure later in childhood. Method: Participants were enrolled in a population-based prenatal cohort. For 191 families, maternal and paternal sensitivity was repeatedly observed when the child was between 1 year and 4 years of age. Head circumference was assessed at 6 weeks, and brain structure was assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measurements at 8 years of age. Results: Higher levels of parental sensitivity in early childhood were associated with larger total brain volume (adjusted β = 0.15, p = .01) and gray matter volume (adjusted β = 0.16, p = .01) at 8 years, controlling for infant head size. Higher levels of maternal sensitivity in early childhood were associated with a larger gray matter volume (adjusted β = 0.13, p = .04) at 8 years, independent of infant head circumference. Associations with maternal versus paternal sensitivity were not significantly different. Conclusion: Normal variation in caregiving quality is related to markers of more optimal brain development in children. The results illustrate the important role of both mothers and fathers in child brain development.

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... By not assessing children's brain structure or function at baseline concurrently with the parenting assessment, effects of parenting at baseline on later brain structure or function could be due to an unmeasured association between offspring brain function or structure and parenting at baseline. Indeed several recent studies that conclude there are likely effects of parenting on brain development are subject to this limitation, as parenting was assessed at baseline followed by neuroimaging in the offspring at a later time point (Butterfield et al., 2020;Dégeilh, Bernier, Leblanc, Daneault, & Beauchamp, 2018;Kok et al., 2015;Taylor, Eisenberger, Saxbe, Lehman, & Lieberman, 2006;Guyer et al., 2015;Jiang et al., 2020;Kopala-Sibley et al., 2020). ...
... However, studies have also found associations between parenting in infancy, childhood, or adolescence and global cortical thickness (Frye et al., 2010), total grey matter volume (Kok et al., 2015), functioning in the occipital lobe in adolescents (Pozzi et al., 2020), and large scale functional brain networks such as functional connectivity of the default mode and salience networks in late childhood (Dégeilh et al., 2018;Graham et al., 2015). Research confirms associations between self-reported and retrospectively recalled adverse developmental experiences and suboptimal parenting and offspring brain structure and function, in particular in limbic, striatal, and prefrontal region structure, function, and functional connectivity during a 30 range of fMRI tasks. ...
... of studies have examined the 25 effects of normative parenting in infants, children, or adolescents (e.g.,Butterfield et al., 2020;Dégeilh et al., 2018, Jiang et al., 2020Kok et al., 2015;Lee, Siegle, Dahl, Hooley, & Silk, 2014, Guyer et al., 2015, Bernier et al., 2018Kopala-Sibley et al., 2020Wang et al., 2019, Brody et al., 2019, Schneider et al., 2012, Romund et al., 2016, Thijssen et al., 2017Whittle et al., 2008Whittle et al., , 2009Whittle et al., , 2014Whittle et al., , 2016Whittle et al., , 2017Yap et al., 2008). Five were cross-sectional and seven were longitudinal in that they either measured parenting at one time point and brain structure or function at a later time point, or they measured parenting at baseline and then included repeated measures of neuroimaging. ...
Preprint
Parenting has been robustly associated with offspring psychosocial development, and these effects are likely reflected in brain development. However, the claim that parenting influences offspring brain development in humans, as measured by structural and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), is subject to numerous methodological limitations. To interpret the state of the parenting and brain development literature, we review these limitations. Four limitations are common. First, most literature has been cross-sectional. Where longitudinal, studies rarely included multiple assessments of brain structure or function, precluding measurement of actual brain development. Second, parenting has largely been measured via selfor parent-report, as opposed to observational assessment. Third, there has been a focus on extreme forms of developmental adversity which do not necessarily lie on a continuum with normative parenting. Fourth, although not a limitation per se, studies have generally focused on negative as opposed to positive parenting behaviours. While not all studies are subject to all these limitations, the study of parenting in relation to offspring brain development is in its infancy.
... Motherchild interactions were recorded and subsequently coded, according to the revised Erickson seven-point rating scales (Egeland, Erickson, Clemenhagen-Moon, Hiester, & Korfmacher, 1990), based on two interdependent subscales: intrusiveness (IN) and supportive presence (SP), which together form the maternal sensitivity construct. Inter-coder reliability amounted to 0.81 at age 3 and 0.84 at age 4 (Kok et al., 2015). ...
... An overall maternal sensitivity score was calculated, for participants with data at age 3 and/or 4, by averaging such standardized measures (Cents et al., 2014). This was done in line with previous literature (Kok et al., 2015), due to the stability of the maternal sensitivity scores between age 3 and 4 years (Kok et al., 2013), the temporality of these assessments, which both precede DNAm at age 6, and to maximize our sample size. Cronbach's α reliability of the obtained measure was acceptable (Cronbach's α = 0.70) (Cortina, 1993). ...
... Thirdly, based on a list of our CpG hits, the in-house GO analysis and missMethyl validation were run, with the same procedures as the main GO analysis specified above. Finally, to understand the relevance of our findings to the brain, which is linked to the caregiving environment (Kok et al., 2015;Weaver et al., 2004), we looked-up brain-blood concordance values for our top hits using the BECon online tool (https://red-gar598.shinyapps.io/BECon/) (Edgar, Jones, Meaney, Turecki, & Kobor, 2017). ...
Article
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Background. Experimental work in animals has shown that DNA methylation (DNAm), an epigenetic mechanism regulating gene expression, is influenced by typical variation in maternal care. While emerging research in humans supports a similar association, studies to date have been limited to candidate gene and cross-sectional approaches, with a focus on extreme deviations in the caregiving environment. Methods. Here, we explored the prospective association between typical variation in maternal sensitivity and offspring epigenome-wide DNAm, in a population-based cohort of children (N = 235). Maternal sensitivity was observed when children were 3- and 4-years-old. DNAm, quantified with the Infinium 450 K array, was extracted at age 6 (whole blood). The influence of methylation quantitative trait loci (mQTLs), DNAm at birth (cord blood), and confounders (socioeconomic status, maternal psychopathology) was considered in follow-up analyses. Results. Genome-wide significant associations between maternal sensitivity and offspring DNAm were observed at 13 regions ( p < 1.06 × 10−07), but not at single sites. Follow-up analyses indicated that associations at these regions were in part related to genetic factors, confounders, and baseline DNAm levels at birth, as evidenced by the presence of mQTLs at five regions and estimate attenuations. Robust associations with maternal sensitivity were found at four regions, annotated to ZBTB22, TAPBP, ZBTB12, and DOCK4. Conclusions. These findings provide novel leads into the relationship between typical variation in maternal caregiving and offspring DNAm in humans, highlighting robust regions of associations, previously implicated in psychological and developmental problems, immune functioning, and stress responses.
... For example, abundant research demonstrates that mothers' representations relate to children's attachment security (e.g., van IJzendoorn, 1995;Steele et al., 2014), and an emerging body of research indicates that children's attachment security is related to individual differences in brain structure (see Long et al., 2020, for a review; see Puhlmann et al., 2021, for evidence in adolescence, see also Ilyka et al., 2021). Furthermore, in addition to the large body of research demonstrating that mothers' attachment representations guide caregiving behavior (e.g., Huth-Bocks et al., 2014;Jones et al., 2015), some research demonstrates that normative variation in caregiving relates to individual differences in children's cortical and subcortical brain structures (Kok et al., 2015;Rifkin-Graboi et al., 2015;Farber et al., 2020;Ilyka et al., 2021;Richmond et al., 2021). Thus, although there is some indication of a possible indirect link between mothers' attachment representations and children's brain development, no research to date has examined the direct link or mechanisms through which this relation might occur. ...
... Examination of maternal caregiving is critical because early caregiving experiences become biologically embedded in the child and can have profound effects on development (McEwen, 2000;Meaney and Szyf, 2005;Belsky and de Haan, 2011;McLaughlin et al., 2019). Early experiences with caregivers predict the development of subcortical (e.g., Meaney and Szyf, 2005;Rifkin-Graboi et al., 2015;Gee, 2016;Sethna et al., 2017;Bernier et al., 2019) and cortical (e.g., Blaze et al., 2013;Kok et al., 2015) brain structures. Although abundant research demonstrates that early maltreatment and neglect relate to children's brain development (see Belsky and de Haan, 2011;McLaughlin et al., 2019, for reviews), we focus here on normative variation in caregiving behaviors. ...
... There are, however, some null findings and findings in the opposite direction surrounding caregiving and the hippocampus. Some studies suggest positive caregiving experiences relate to smaller hippocampal volumes in infants (Rifkin-Graboi et al., 2015) and toddlers (Bernier et al., 2019), and other studies reveal no relation between maternal caregiving and hippocampal volume in early (Lee et al., 2019) and middle childhood (Kok et al., 2015). Inconsistent findings, combined with the crucial role of the hippocampus in children's cognitive and emotional well-being (e.g., Barch et al., 2019), highlight the need to continue examining relations between caregiving and the hippocampus. ...
Article
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Ample research demonstrates that parents’ experience-based mental representations of attachment—cognitive models of close relationships—relate to their children’s social-emotional development. However, no research to date has examined how parents’ attachment representations relate to another crucial domain of children’s development: brain development. The present study is the first to integrate the separate literatures on attachment and developmental social cognitive neuroscience to examine the link between mothers’ attachment representations and three- to eight-year-old children’s brain structure. We hypothesized that mothers’ attachment representations would relate to individual differences in children’s brain structures involved in stress regulation—specifically, amygdala and hippocampal volumes—in part via mothers’ responses to children’s distress. We assessed 52 mothers’ attachment representations (secure base script knowledge on the Attachment Script Assessment and self-reported attachment avoidance and anxiety on the Experience in Close Relationships scale) and children’s brain structure. Mothers’ secure base script knowledge was significantly related to children’s smaller left amygdala volume but was unrelated to hippocampal volume; we found no indirect links via maternal responses to children’s distress. Exploratory analyses showed associations between mothers’ attachment representations and white matter and thalamus volumes. Together, these preliminary results suggest that mothers’ attachment representations may be linked to the development of children’s neural circuitry related to stress regulation.
... For instance, dietary scarcity of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (that make up 20% of the dry weight of human brain) may negatively affect cognitive ability Gaulin (2008, 2015). Further, natural variation in parental (Kok et al., 2015) or maternal (Luby et al., 2012;Whittle et al., 2016) support in early childhood has been shown to predict later child structural brain development in contemporary western societies. ...
... The proximate explanation for such an association involves psychosocial stress resulting from low parenting effort. For instance, a study in a normal Dutch population showed that higher levels of sensitive parental care (characterized by prompt and adequate response to the child's signals and needs) in early childhood were associated with larger total brain volume at 8 years, controlling for infant head size (Kok et al., 2015). A possible mechanism here involves sensitivity of growth hormone/IGF-1 pathway to psychological stress (Gohlke et al., 2004;Johnson et al., 2010). ...
... Our results are consistent with findings which have shown that even in calorie-sufficient populations, micronutrient availability may constrain brain growth and development (e.g., Arija et al., 2006;Caballero, 2002), affect cognitive ability Gaulin, 2008, 2015), and that higher levels of sensitive parental care in childhood are associated with larger brain volumes (Kok et al., 2015). These findings have practical implications for public health policy as childhood cranial volume is an important predictor of future cognitive abilities and educational attainment (reviewed in Valge et al., 2019). ...
Article
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Growth of different body parts in humans is sensitive to different resource constraints that are mediated by parental investment. Parental investment can involve the expenditure of material, cognitive, and emotional resources on offspring. Cranial volume, an important predictor of cognitive ability, appears understudied in this context. We asked (1) whether there are associations between growth and family structure, self-reported estimates for resource availability, and sibling number; and (2) whether these constraints relate to head and body growth in a similar manner. We assessed the associations between parental investment, height, and cranial volume in a cross-sectional study of Estonian children (born 1980–87, aged 11–17). Height correlated negatively with the number of siblings but this association became negligible in a model controlling for birthweight, parental heights, and mother’s age at birth. Unlike height, cranial volume was unrelated to sibling number, but it was negatively associated with self-reported meat and general resource shortage. Cranial volume was related to family structure and paternal education. Children living with both birth-parents had larger heads than those living in families containing a step-parent. Since these family types did not differ with respect to meat or general resource shortage, our findings suggest that families including both genetic parents provide non-material benefits that stimulate predominantly cranial growth. For the studied developmental period, cranial volume appeared a more sensitive marker of growth constraints than height. The potential of using cranial volume for quantifying physical impact of non-material parental investment deserves further attention.
... Indeed, of the studies surveyed (Table 1), 47 (57.32%) were cross sectional. Of the papers containing longitudinal data (10 structural MRI and 23 fMRI), only 12 (14.63% of all studies) assessed parenting and brain structure or function and then conducted MRI scans at a later time point (Whittle et al., 2013a(Whittle et al., ,b, 2016(Whittle et al., , 2017Kok et al., 2015;Pagliaccio et al., 2015;Tyborowska et al., 2018;Wang et al., 2019;Butterfield et al., 2021;Jiang et al., 2021;Pozzi et al., 2021;Suffren et al., 2021), although only five examined brain structural (Whittle et al., 2013a(Whittle et al., ,b, 2016(Whittle et al., , 2017 or functional development over time (Pozzi et al., 2021). ...
... To date, 43 studies (52.43%, Table 1) studies have examined the effects of normative parenting in infants, children, or adolescents (e.g., Whittle et al., 2008Whittle et al., , 2009Wildeman et al., 2014;Whittle et al., 2016Whittle et al., , 2017Yap et al., 2008;Schneider et al., 2012;Lee et al., 2014;Guyer et al., 2015;Kok et al., 2015;Romund et al., 2016;Thijssen et al., 2017;Bernier et al., 2018;Dégeilh et al., 2018;Brody et al., 2019;Wang et al., 2019;Kopala-Sibley et al., 2020;Butterfield et al., 2021;Jiang et al., 2021). Twenty-three of these 28 (75%) were longitudinal in that they either measured parenting at one time point and brain structure or function at a later time point, or they measured parenting at baseline and then included repeated measures of neuroimaging. ...
... However, studies have also found associations between parenting in infancy, childhood, or adolescence and global cortical thickness (Frye et al., 2010), total gray matter volume (Kok et al., 2015), functioning in the occipital lobe in adolescents (Pozzi et al., 2020), functional connectivity in corticolimbic regions (Jiang et al., 2021), and large-scale functional brain networks such as functional connectivity of the default mode and salience networks in late childhood or adolescence (Graham et al., 2015;Dégeilh et al., 2018;Pozzi et al., 2021). Research confirms associations between self-reported and retrospectively recalled adverse developmental experiences and suboptimal parenting and offspring brain structure and function, in particular in limbic, striatal, and prefrontal region structure, function, and functional connectivity during a range of fMRI tasks. ...
Article
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Parenting has been robustly associated with offspring psychosocial development, and these effects are likely reflected in brain development. This hypothesis is being tested with increasingly rigorous methods and the use of magnetic resonance imaging, a powerful tool for characterizing human brain structure and function. The objective of this narrative review was to examine methodological issues in this field that impact the conclusions that can be drawn and to identify future directions in this field. Studies included were those that examined associations between parenting and offspring brain structure or function. Results show four thematic features in this literature that impact the hypotheses that can be tested, and the conclusions drawn. The first theme is a limited body of studies including repeated sampling of offspring brain structure and function, and therefore an over-reliance on cross-sectional or retrospective associations. The second involves a focus on extremes in early life caregiving, limiting generalizability. The third involves the nature of parenting assessment, predominantly parent- or child-report instead of observational measures which may be more ecologically valid measures of parenting. A closely related fourth consideration is the examination of detrimental versus positive parenting behaviors. While studies with one or more of these thematic limitations provide valuable information, future study design should consider addressing these limitations to determine how parenting shapes offspring brain development.
... Although distal factors such as economic strain are strong predictors of brain development, they are a proxy for a host of more proximal factors, among which parenting is particularly relevant for our current study (Bernier et al., 2016;Khoury et al., 2019;Kok et al., 2015). The effects of extreme caregiving situations during infancy, such as institutionalization, have been well established (Pollak et al., 2010;Sheridan et al., 2012), but evidence suggests that normative variation in parenting during infancy also has lasting effects on brain development (Bernier et al., 2016;Khoury et al., 2019;Kok et al., 2015). ...
... Although distal factors such as economic strain are strong predictors of brain development, they are a proxy for a host of more proximal factors, among which parenting is particularly relevant for our current study (Bernier et al., 2016;Khoury et al., 2019;Kok et al., 2015). The effects of extreme caregiving situations during infancy, such as institutionalization, have been well established (Pollak et al., 2010;Sheridan et al., 2012), but evidence suggests that normative variation in parenting during infancy also has lasting effects on brain development (Bernier et al., 2016;Khoury et al., 2019;Kok et al., 2015). For instance, normative variations in maternal sensitivity are related to volumetric development, such that individuals who experienced low-quality parenting during their first year of life have enlarged limbic structures that are related in turn to mental health disorders (Khoury et al., 2019). ...
Article
Social interactions are essential for infant brain development, yet we know little about how infant functional connectivity differs between social and nonsocial contexts, or how sensitivity to differences between contexts might be related to early distal and proximal environmental factors. We compared 12‐month‐old infants’ intrahemispheric electroencephalographic (EEG) coherence between a social and a nonsocial condition, then examined whether differences between conditions varied as a function of family economic strain and two maternal behaviors at 6 months, positive affect and infant‐directed speech. We found lower EEG coherence from the frontal region to the central, parietal, temporal, and occipital regions during the social condition, but only for infants from higher‐income families and infants whose mothers used higher proportions of infant‐directed speech. In contrast, there were no differences between social and nonsocial conditions for infants from economically strained families or infants whose mothers used lower proportions of infant‐directed speech. This study demonstrates that neural organization differs between a nonsocial baseline and a social interaction, but said differentiation is not present for infants from less privileged backgrounds. Our results underscore the importance of examining brain activity during species‐typical contexts to understand the role of environmental factors in brain development.
... Sensitive and responsive caregiving has been linked to adaptive social, emotional, and cognitive development, as described earlier, and more recently has been linked with patterns of structural neurodevelopment in regions involved in emotion processing (80)(81)(82). In addition, supportive caregiving has also been shown to promote resilience and buffer against the emergence of negative developmental outcomes in children who have experienced adversity. ...
... Optimizing emotional development during sensitive periods warrants further investigation, investment of resources, and integration of interventions into public health infrastructure and routine educational and health care programs for children (120). Extensive evidence underscores the power of a sensitive, responsive, and nurturing caregiver on brain and behavioral development, and emerging evidence suggests that these targets may also be foundational to physical health (81). Future studies are needed to clarify and specify whether and when sensitive periods are present for emotional development domains to inform the optimal timing of these interventions during early childhood. ...
Article
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Environmental experiences early in life have strong and enduring consequences for cognitive, emotional, and neurobiological development and related physical and mental health trajectories. The powerful influence of early caregiver nurturance and stimulation on promoting positive neurodevelopmental outcomes has been demonstrated across species. These findings elucidate the environmental conditions known to facilitate healthy neurodevelopment and underscores the potential for modifiable psychosocial factors in the environment to be harnessed to inform early preventive interventions to promote health and adaptive development. A framework for early preventive interventions to enhance nurturing and responsive caregiving for implementation during early sensitive periods of brain development delivered within existing health or educational infrastructures is proposed. Emotional development during sensitive periods is an important, under-recognized, and abundantly modifiable predictor of mental and physical health outcomes that warrants investment of resources, and integration of interventions into public health infrastructure for children worldwide. Future studies are needed to further clarify whether and when sensitive periods are present for key developmental domains to inform the optimal timing and targets of these interventions. Numerous available empirically supported early interventions may be modified and applied in briefer and more feasible modalities of delivery to broader populations of developing children. As well established in growth and development across species, essential environmental inputs that are particularly important at specified developmental periods facilitate optimal growth trajectories. Such principles hold great potential in application to early child neurodevelopment to facilitate a thriving and resilient human population.
... A gap in the existing literature is the lack of research on paternal parenting, although evidence supports a role of fathers in offspring development. Both maternal and paternal sensitivity were associated with offspring brain differences in the present cohort (Kok et al., 2015). Additionally, an interaction effect has been described for maternal and paternal harsh parenting in relation to the offspring outcomes (Meunier et al., 2012;Wang et al., 2019). ...
... Covariates. Potential confounders were selected based on previous studies (Kok et al., 2015;Whittle et al., 2016). Marital status, maternal ethnicity, prenatal smoking and alcohol consumption were self-reported with questionnaires during pregnancy. ...
Article
Evidence suggests that maltreatment shapes the child’s brain. Little is known, however, about how normal variation in parenting influences the child neurodevelopment. We examined whether harsh parenting is associated with the brain morphology in 2,410 children from a population-based cohort. Mothers and fathers independently reported harsh parenting at child age 3 years. Structural and diffusion-weighted brain morphological measures were acquired with MRI scans at age 10 years. We explored whether associations between parenting and brain morphology were explained by co-occurring adversities, and whether there was a joint effect of both parents’ harsh parenting. Maternal harsh parenting was associated with smaller total gray (β = −0.05 (95%CI = −0.08; −0.01)), cerebral white matter and amygdala volumes (β = −0.04 (95%CI = −0.07; 0)). These associations were also observed with the combined harsh parenting measure and were robust to the adjustment for multiple confounding factors. Similar associations, although non-significant, were found between paternal parenting and these brain outcomes. Maternal and paternal harsh parenting were not associated with the hippocampus or the white matter microstructural metrics. We found a long-term association between harsh parenting and the global brain and amygdala volumes in preadolescents, suggesting that adverse rearing environments common in the general population are related to child brain morphology.
... More speci cally, higher levels of maternal sensitivity have been identi ed as signi cant predictors of better reading and performances in mathematics at ages seven and eight in children born preterm (6,13). Higher levels of maternal sensitivity also signi cantly predict larger gray matter volumes and head circumference in preterm infants at the age of eight (18). In light of these results, maternal sensitivity seems to be an important factor having a direct effect upon preterm infants' short-term cognitive and brain development. ...
... Many studies have linked an increase in maternal sensitivity to preterm infants' neurodevelopment. For example, enhanced maternal sensitivity predicts larger gray matter volume and head circumference (18), improved mental development (14), more consistent and symmetric cortical thickness across brain hemispheres (92), improved cognitive performances (6,13,16) and improved cerebral white matter micro-structural development (93). ...
Preprint
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Background: Maternal sensitivity is an important predictor of long-term mother-infant attachment and infant development. Considering the behavioral specificities of preterm infants that may impede the development of maternal sensitivity, it is essential to promote these outcomes soon after a preterm birth. A systematic review showed that current evidence on the effectiveness of parent-infant intervention promoting parental sensitivity in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is of low to very low quality. The aim of this project was to develop and design a novel nursing intervention to enhance maternal sensitivity and preterm infant neurodevelopment in the NICU. Methods: The Medical Research Council’s guidance to develop and evaluate complex health interventions, that is an evidence and theory-based approach, was used for this study. Thus, based on the MRC framework, three main steps were conducted: 1- Identifying existing empirical evidence; 2- Identifying and developing theory; 3- Modeling processes and outcomes. Results: We developed a guided participation intervention for mothers to participate in their preterm infant’s care and positioning (GP_Posit). GP_Posit is based upon the Attachment theory, the Guided participation theory as well as the Synactive theory of development. Conclusion: This novel intervention is being tested in a pilot randomized controlled trial (NCT03677752).
... Higher maternal sensitivity has been found to be associated with greater subcortical volume in infants [11], but also to smaller hippocampal volume and smaller amygdala volume in infants [12]. In contrast, Kok, et al. [13] reported that early parental sensitivity (maternal and paternal combined) was actually not linked with hippocampal or amygdala volume, revealing some inconsistencies in specific brain regions in relation to this parenting construct. However, as would be expected, parental sensitivity was in fact associated with total brain volume in school-age children [12]. ...
... Moreover, although the dyad can include mothers and fathers, developmental research has only recently begun to study the father-child relationship. Increased incorporation of the father figure has rarely been conducted in this area of inquiry [13], and would provide valuable insights into the similarities and differences between parent figures' EA and influences on the body. ...
Article
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Parental influences are important for a child's behavior, overall adjustment, as well as cognitive/language development. New research is exploring how relationships with parents can influence a child's neurobiological functioning and development. In this systematic review, our first aim is to describe how the caregiving environment influences these aspects of child development. The second and main aim is to review and recommend that the concept (and measurement) of "emotional availability" may provide a new window in this continued exploration. Emotional availability (EA) refers to the capacity of a dyad to share an emotionally healthy relationship. The EA Scales assess this construct using a multi-dimensional framework, with a method to measure the affect and behavior of both the child and adult partner (caregiver). In this review, we first provide an overview of child development research, with regards to stress physiology, neuroendocrine system, genetics and epigenetics, and brain mechanisms. We then summarize the results of specific EA research in these areas, and propose a theoretical model integrating these constructs. Finally, we offer areas for future research in this area.
... Theoretically, parents who are sensitive act within children's zone of proximal development by being attuned and responsive to children's interests, focus of gaze, and developmental capacity (Chak, 2001;Vygotsky, 1978). Over time, these high quality, reciprocal parent-child interactions, are thought to build the neural architecture responsible for healthy cognitive development (Kok et al., 2015). ...
... Over time, increasing competence in the presence of attuned interactions provides the foundation for learning in independent problem-solving situations (Landry et al., 2006;Vygotsky, 1978). In addition, sensitive paternal parenting has been shown to be associated with increased brain volume and cortical thickness (Kok et al., 2015), thereby building the neural architecture essential for healthy cognitive development. Moreover, it has been shown that fathers who are sensitive tend to promote children's "willing stance" toward others-children's motivation to be engaged in social interactions (Goffin et al., 2018). ...
Article
In a series of meta-analyses, paternal sensitivity was associated with children's (age range: 7 months-9 years) overall cognitive functioning (N = 3,193; k = 23; r = .19), including language skills (k = 9; r = .21), cognitive ability (k = 9; r = .18), and executive function (k = 8; r = .19). Paternal sensitivity was not associated with children's overall socioemotional functioning (N = 2,924; k = 24; r = -.03) or internalizing problems, but it was associated with children's emotion regulation (k = 7; r = .22) and externalizing problems (k = 19; r = -.08). In the broad cognitive functioning, executive function, broad socioemotional functioning, and externalizing problems meta-analyses, child age was a significant moderator.
... Lower socioeconomic status (SES) has been linked to lower GMV but not with lower WMV (9,10) in infants and children. Lower maternal sensitivity was associated with lower GMV in infants (11) and 8-year-old children (12), but not with combined GMV and WMV in infants (11). In addition, as reviewed elsewhere (13), higher maternal stress during pregnancy is an important risk factor related to decreased offspring GMV (14). ...
... MCM has been associated with increased maternal depression (48), suboptimal parenting (49,50), atypical maternal and infant stress responses (51)(52)(53)(54)(55), and disruptions in early mother-infant interaction (55). Finally, other work has linked reduced GMV in infancy and childhood to lower SES (9,10) and lower maternal sensitivity (11,12). The moderate to high SES of this sample may contribute to the lack of association between SES and infant brain volume. ...
Article
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Objective Child maltreatment affects approximately 25% of the world’s population. Importantly, the children of mothers who have been maltreated are at increased risk of behavioral problems. Thus, one important priority is to identify child neurobiological processes associated with maternal childhood maltreatment (MCM) that might contribute to such intergenerational transmission. The present study assessed the impact of MCM on infant grey and white matter volumes and infant amygdala and hippocampal volumes during the first two years of life. Methods Fifty-seven mothers with 4-month-old infants were assessed for MCM, using both the brief Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) screening questionnaire and the more detailed Maltreatment and Abuse Chronology of Exposure scale (MACE). 58% had experienced childhood maltreatment. Between 4 and 24 months (M age = 12.28 months, SD = 5.99), under natural sleep, infants completed an MRI using a 3.0 T Siemens scanner. Total brain volume (TBV), grey matter volume (GMV), white matter volume (WMV), amygdala and hippocampal volumes were extracted via automated segmentation. Results MCM on the ACE and MACE were associated with lower infant TBV and GMV, with no moderation by infant age. However, infant age moderated the association between MCM and right amygdala volume, such that MCM was associated with lower volume at older ages. Conclusion MCM is associated with alterations in infant brain volumes, calling for further identification of the prenatal and postnatal mechanisms contributing to such intergenerational transmission. Further, the brief ACE questionnaire predicted these alterations, suggesting the potential utility of early screening for infant risk.
... The evidence that prenatal maternal stress and mental health has long-reaching implications for offspring psychopathology raises the need to investigate factors that can reduce or eliminate the consequences of prenatal adversity. High-quality parental caregiving is a likely factor that may increase resiliency in the face of prenatal adversity Kok et al., 2015;NICHD Early Childcare Research Network, 1999). The current study addresses an important knowledge gap by investigating whether high-quality maternal caregiving during infancy ameliorates the consequences of prenatal maternal distress on child cognitive and emotional development, thereby shifting trajectories of risk towards more optimal mental health. ...
... The first year postpartum continues to be a sensitive window of heightened neuroplasticity and rapid neural growth (Gee, 2016;Gilmore, Knickmeyer, & Gao, 2018;Knickmeyer et al., 2008) and maternal care may modify developmental trajectories. Consistent with this possibility, high-quality maternal care is associated with enhanced child hippocampal volume growth; this growth trajectory is further associated with improved child emotion regulation (Luby, Barch, Whalen, Tillman, & Belden, 2017) as well as with greater child gray matter volume at 8 years (Kok et al., 2015). Experimental animal and cross species research provide strong evidence that maternal care directly impacts neural circuits underlying cognitive and emotional vulnerabilities that are impacted by prenatal maternal distress (Gee, 2016;Granger et al., 2021;Liu, Diori, Day, Francis, & Meaney, 2000;Rao et al., 2010). ...
Article
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Children exposed to prenatal maternal psychological distress are at elevated risk for a range of adverse outcomes; however, it remains poorly understood whether postnatal influences can ameliorate impairments related to prenatal distress. The current study evaluated if sensitivematernal care during the first postnatal year could mitigate child cognitive and emotional impairments associated with prenatal psychological distress. Prenatal maternal psychological distress was assessed via self-reports of anxiety, depression, and perceived stress for 136 mothers at five prenatal and four postpartum time points. Quality of maternal care (sensitivity to nondistress, positive regard, and intrusiveness reverse-scored) were assessed during a mother–child play interaction at 6 and 12 months. Child cognitive function and negative emotionality were assessed at 2 years, using The Bayley Scales and the Early Childhood Behavior Questionnaire. Elevated prenatal distress was associated with poorer child cognitive function and elevated negative emotionality. Children exposed to elevated prenatal maternal distress did not, however, display these outcomes if they received high-quality caregiving. Specifically, maternal care moderated the relation between prenatal psychological distress and child cognitive function and negative emotionality. This association remained after consideration of postnatal maternal psychological distress and relevant covariates. Sensitive maternal care was associated with altered offspring developmental trajectories, supporting child resilience following prenatal distress exposure.
... Neural growth occurs in an interpersonal context, where the quality and nature of caregiving practices play a critical role in shaping this change (Cicchetti & Curtis, 2006;Newman, Sivaratnam, & Komiti, 2015). Growing evidence suggests that even normative variability in the quality of caregiving (e.g., parental sensitivity) during infancy is associated with measurable alterations in brain morphology both during infancy (Rifkin-Graboi et al., 2015) and prospectively during middle childhood (Kok et al., 2015). More severe forms of malevolent care, such as abuse or neglect, alter children's structural and functional brain development (Callaghan & Tottenham, 2016b), as indicated by abnormalities in white matter tract integrity (Choi, Jeong, Polcari, Rohan, & Teicher, 2012;Hanson et al., 2013;Huang, Gundapuneedi, & Rao, 2012), altered FC in the fronto-limbic system (Gee et al., 2013;Herringa et al., 2013;Jedd et al., 2015), reduced neuroplasticity (Callaghan & Tottenham, 2016a), increased or atrophied dendritic arborization (Bennett & Diamond, 1996;Bennett, Rosenzweig, Diamond, Morimoto, & Hebert, 1974;Molet et al., 2016), and gray matter reduction Lim, Radua, & Rubia, 2014;Mehta et al., 2009;Tozzi et al., 2020). ...
Article
A variety of childhood experiences can lead to anxious/depressed (A/D) symptoms. The aim of the present study was to explore the brain morphological (cortical thickness and surface area) correlates of A/D symptoms and the extent to which these phenotypes vary depending on the quality of the parenting context in which children develop. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were acquired on 45 children with Child Protective Services (CPS) involvement due to risk of not receiving adequate care (high-risk group) and 25 children without CPS involvement (low-risk group) (range age = 8.08-12.14; M age = 10.05) to assess cortical thickness (CT) and cortical surface area (SA). A/D symptoms were measured using the Child Behavioral Checklist. The association between A/D symptoms and CT, but not SA, differed by risk status such that high-risk children showed decreasing CT as A/D scores increased, whereas low-risk children showed increasing CT as A/D scores increased. This interaction was specific to CT in prefrontal, frontal, temporal, and parietal cortical regions. The groups had marginally different A/D scores, in the direction of higher risk being associated with lower A/D scores. Results suggest that CT correlates of A/D symptoms are differentially shaped by the quality of early caregiving experiences and should be distinguished between high-and low-risk children.
... For example, one study found that children of more sensitive mothers had increased gray matter and total brain matter, after controlling for head size (Kok et al., 2015), and increased gray matter has been linked to improved cognition, language, and executive function (Ramanoël, 2018). Therefore, sensitive parenting may help children excel in a variety of ways. ...
Article
Self-esteem has implications for a wide variety of psychological problems. This study sought to determine whether parenting practices at ages 3 and 4 years contributed to 5-year-old children's self-perception, a precursor to later self-esteem. Data came from a longitudinal study in which preschool twin or triplet children were tested within a month of their birthdays; complete data were available for 263 children tested at ages 4 and 5 years and for 211 children tested at ages 3 and 5 years. As part of testing at ages 3 and 4, children and parents engaged in a puzzle task for 10 min; their behaviors were coded by trained raters. Parenting variables of verbal warmth, positive affect, permissive discipline, and sensitivity were coded. At age 5, children's self-perception was assessed using the Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Social Acceptance for Young Children. Results showed that parental positive affect and sensitivity at age 4 predicted increased maternal acceptance at age 5, and permissive discipline predicted decreased peer acceptance scores for girls, but not boys. Additionally, parental verbal warmth at age 3 predicted higher peer acceptance scores at age 5. Finally, boys who experienced increases in parent positive affect from ages 3 to 4 showed higher peer acceptance scores at age 5. This study provides evidence that parenting is an important factor in the development of preschool children's self-perception.
... Another review by Ilyka et al. (2021) reviewed studies investigating the relationship between parent-infant behaviors and measures of the child's brain structure and function; these studies showed wide variation in the neuroimaging data, while interaction data was more consistent, and maternal sensitivity was the most investigated. Previously, maternal sensitivity had been shown to be associated, for example, with hippocampal distal functional connectivity (Wang et al., 2019), hippocampal volumes bilaterally (Rifkin-Graboi et al., 2015), subcortical gray matter volume (Sethna et al., 2017), and total brain volumes (Kok et al., 2015). Finally, to the best of our knowledge, no one has examined the association between maternal sensitivity and brain local functional connectivity. ...
Article
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The quality of mother–child interaction, especially maternal sensitivity in caregiving behavior, plays an important role in a child’s later socioemotional development. Numerous studies have indicated associations between poor mother–child interaction and offspring brain structure and function, but more knowledge on how variation in the characteristics of early caregiving is associated with children’s brain structure and function is needed. We investigated whether maternal sensitivity at 8 or 30 months is associated with functional connectivity in a child’s brain at 5 years of age based on the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study (17 and 39 mother–child dyads at 8 and 30 months, respectively, with an overlap of 13 dyads). Maternal sensitivity was assessed during a free play interaction using the Emotional Availability Scales at 8 and 30 months of the children’s age. Task-free functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was acquired at the age of 5 years in 7-min scans while watching the Inscapes movie. Regional homogeneity (ReHo) maps were created from the fMRI data, and multiple regression analysis was performed to assess the relation between maternal sensitivity and ReHo. Maternal sensitivity at the age of 8 months was positively associated with children’s ReHo values within the medial prefrontal cortex. Distal connectivity of this region showed no significant association with maternal sensitivity in a seed-based connectivity analysis. No associations were found between maternal sensitivity during toddlerhood and brain functional connectivity. Together, these results suggest that maternal sensitivity, especially in infancy, may influence offspring brain functional connectivity. However, studies with larger sample sizes are warranted.
... These early attachment experiences shape internal working models of both self and others (Bowlby, 1988;Bretherton, 1996), influencing one's ability to respond empathetically to others, develop socialemotional skills, self-regulate, and to navigate relationships (Murphy & Laible, 2013;Ştefan & Avram, 2019). Warm and sensitive caregiving can specifically promote secure attachments and contribute to more positive self-concepts among children (Goodvin et al., 2008), buffering against adversity, and supporting brain development during early childhood (Kok et al., 2015). Overall, high quality parent-child relationships are associated with positive social-emotional and cognitive development outcomes (Stams et al., 2002), as well as language acquisition during early childhood (Belsky & Fearon, 2002). ...
Article
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This analysis examined key protective factors among preschool children in low-income, rural areas. Teacher-reported Devereux Early Childhood Assessments for Preschoolers were completed for 182 Head Start children (54% female, 46% male) from seven rural, midwestern communities. The majority of children were in the typical range for each protective factor and for behavioral concerns. In comparison to a standardized sample, the rural sample had lower mean scores for all protective factors. Females had statistically significantly higher scores for initiative, self-regulation, attachment/relationships, and total protective factors, while having lower behavioral concerns than males. T-scores for initiative were statistically significantly higher for 4-year-olds than for 3-year-olds. Statistically significant negative correlations were also found between behavioral concerns and each protective factor, with the strongest negative correlation occurring with self-regulation. There was no statistically significant difference in T-scores between the fall (i.e., Time 1) and spring (i.e., Time 2). This analysis adds to existing literature by delineating the prevalence of with-in child protective factors among preschool children in rural, low-income communities and identifying areas in which these children are most in need of additional support.
... Intervention effect sizes were medium. This is important given that even normal variation in early maternal sensitivity predicts infant structural brain development, early maternal intrusiveness predicts infant neural responses at 7 months, and both exert influence on infant attachment and later development (Huffmeijer, 2020;Kok et al., 2015). The clinical implication is that the NBO intervention may have the capacity to positively steer the infant's very early developmental trajectory in the presence of maternal distress via shifts in interaction quality. ...
Preprint
This draft journal article has not been peer-reviewed. It summarises the UNA study rationale, methods and findings.
... From a cognitive and neurological perspective, parental influence is noticed from the early years of a child [23]. Parent-child interaction has been witnessed to produce variations in brain volume and gray matter [23,24]. Also, another study indicates that there is more perceptual similarity of actions between parents and their children for certain situations [25]. ...
Article
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Parents play an important role in the mental development of a child. In our previous work, we addressed how a narcissistic parent influences a child (online/offline) when (s)he is happy and admires the child. Now, we address the influence of a parent who is not so much pleased, and may curse the child for being the reason for his or her unhappiness. An abusive relationship with a parent can also cause trauma and poor mental health of the child. We also address how certain coping behaviors can help the child cope with such a situation. Therefore, the aim of the study is threefold. We present an adaptive agent model of a child, while incorporating the concept of mirroring through social contagion, the avoidance behaviors from a child, and the effects of regulation strategies to cope with stressful situations.
... The relationships between children and primary caregivers are thought to be particularly influential in shaping neurodevelopment (Tottenham, 2018;Gee, 2016), with longitudinal evidence that positive and negative parenting behaviors are associated with differential change in brain development in adolescents (Whittle et al., 2014. Positive, more sensitive parenting has been found to predict greater cortical thinning in the orbitofrontal cortex, and in the anterior cingulate in males (Whittle et al., 2014), as well as greater volume in the posterior insular cortex (Matsudaira et al., 2016) and across the whole brain (Kok et al., 2015(Kok et al., , 2018. Negative, more aggressive parenting has been shown to predict greater thickening of the superior frontal gyrus and lateral parietal lobe in males , and has been associated with larger anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortex volumes (Whittle et al., 2009). ...
Article
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Childhood experiences play a profound role in conferring risk and resilience for brain and behavioral development. However, how different facets of the environment shape neurodevelopment remains largely unknown. Here we sought to decompose heterogeneous relationships between environmental factors and brain structure in 989 school-aged children from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. We applied a cross-modal integration and clustering approach called ‘Similarity Network Fusion’, which combined two brain morphometrics (i.e., cortical thickness and myelin-surrogate markers), and key environmental factors (i.e., trauma exposure, neighborhood safety, school environment, and family environment) to identify homogeneous subtypes. Depending on the subtyping resolution, results identified two or five subgroups, each characterized by distinct brain structure-environment profiles. Notably, more supportive caregiving and school environments were associated with greater myelination, whereas less supportive caregiving, higher family conflict and psychopathology, and higher perceived neighborhood safety were observed with greater cortical thickness. These subtypes were highly reproducible and predicted externalizing symptoms and overall mental health problems. Our findings support the theory that distinct environmental exposures are differentially associated with alterations in structural neurodevelopment. Delineating more precise associations between risk factors, protective factors, and brain development may inform approaches to enhance risk identification and optimize interventions targeting specific experiences.
... Third, we considered the development of the social brain as an independent variable that predicts social functioning. However, early childhood predictors of later social functioning, such as parental sensitivity (Raby et al., 2015) have been found to predict later structural brain development as well (Kok et al., 2015). Possibly, changes in the social brain may mediate these longitudinal linkages between parental sensitivity and social functioning across adolescence and young adulthood. ...
Article
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We tested whether adolescents differ from each other in the structural development of the social brain, and whether individual differences in social brain development predicted variability in friendship quality development. Adolescents (N = 299, Mage T1 = 13.98 years) were followed across three bi-annual waves. We analysed self-reported friendship quality with the best friend at T1 and T3, and bilateral measures of surface area and cortical thickness of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and precuneus across all waves. At the group level, growth curve models confirmed non-linear decreases of surface area and cortical thickness in social brain regions. We identified substantial individual differences in levels and change rates of social brain regions, especially for surface area of the mPFC, pSTS, and TPJ. Change rates of cortical thickness varied less between persons. Higher levels of mPFC surface area and cortical thickness predicted stronger increases in friendship quality over time. Moreover, faster cortical thinning of mPFC surface area predicted a stronger increase in friendship quality. Higher levels of TPJ cortical thickness predicted lower friendship quality. Together, our results indicate heterogeneity in social brain development and how this variability uniquely predicts friendship quality development.
... From a cognitive and neurological perspective, parental influence is noticed from the early years of a child (Sethna et al., 2017). Parent-child interaction has been witnessed to produce variations in brain volume and grey matter (Kok et al., 2015;Sethna et al., 2017). Also, another study indicates that there is more perceptual similarity of actions between parents and their children for certain situations (Lee et al., 2017). ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Parents play an important role in the mental development of a child. In our previous work, we addressed how a narcissistic parent influences a child (online/offline) when (s)he is happy and admires the child. Now, we address the influence of a parent who is not so much pleased and, may curse the child for being the reason for his or her unhappiness. An abusive relationship with a parent can also cause trauma and poor mental health of the child. We also address how certain coping behaviors can help the child cope with such a situation. Therefore, the aim of the study is three folds. We present an adaptive agent model of a child, while incorporating the concept of mirroring through social contagion, the avoidance behaviors from a child, and the effects of regulation strategies to cope with stressful situations.
... Positive environmental experiences such as mindfulness are beneficial for improving depression, anxiety, coping and mood in individuals with a history of childhood adversity, but the implications of such interventions for immune function in this population are largely unknown (Ortiz and Sibinga, 2017). There is research demonstrating that sensitive caregiving promotes optimal brain development in children, and that factors such as secure environments and caregiver attachments, high family functioning, close parental monitoring, good social support and cognitive behavioural therapy can mitigate and protect against the negative effects of developmental stress, but again, effects on neuroimmune function are unknown Fritz et al., 2018;Kok et al., 2015;Masten et al., 2009;McGoron et al., 2012;Nelson et al., 2014;Sciaraffa et al., 2018;Tiet et al., 1998). One area which has received investigation across the life course is diet. ...
Article
The immune system is crucial for normal neuronal development and function (neuroimmune system). Both immune and neuronal systems undergo significant postnatal development and are sensitive to developmental programming by environmental experiences. Negative experiences from infection to psychological stress at a range of different time points (in utero to adolescence) can permanently alter the function of the neuroimmune system: given its prominent role in normal brain development and function this dysregulation may increase vulnerability to psychiatric illness. In contrast, positive experiences such as exercise and environmental enrichment are protective and can promote resilience, even restoring the detrimental effects of negative experiences on the neuroimmune system. This suggests the neuroimmune system is a viable therapeutic target for treatment and prevention of psychiatric illnesses, especially those related to stress. In this review we will summarise the main cells, molecules and functions of the immune system in general and with specific reference to central nervous system development and function. We will then discuss the effects of negative and positive environmental experiences, especially during development, in programming the long-term functioning of the neuroimmune system. Finally, we will review the sparse but growing literature on sex differences in neuroimmune development and response to environmental experiences.
... Specifically, Lynch et al. [153] conducted a pilot study to examine the use of "pet therapy" (non-structured in-room contact with a dog) among women who were hospitalized due to high-risk pregnancies (e.g., hyperemesis, preeclampsia) and found that self-reported anxiety and depression symptoms decreased following a session with a therapy animal. Given the importance of supportive caregiving environments in the promotion of positive child development [160][161][162], improving maternal mental health via HAI may be an essential pathway to enhance maternal sensitivity and responsivity, thereby affecting later mother-child relationships and children's developmental trajectories. ...
Article
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There is a paucity of research exploring how relationships with household pets may impact maternal mental health. We are unaware of any study to date that has examined associations between individuals’ relationships with their pets and psychological adjustment in the perinatal period. Using a biobehavioral lens, this paper provides a narrative overview of the literature on perinatal mental health and human–animal interaction (HAI). We focus on the role of social relationships, stress, and stress reduction in relation to perinatal mental health; the role of HAI in perceptions of social support, stressors, and stress reduction; and gaps in empirical knowledge concerning the role of HAI in perinatal mental health. Finally, we integrate contemporary biobehavioral models of perinatal mental health and HAI (i.e., Comprehensive Model of Mental Health during the Perinatal Period and the HAI–HPA Transactional Model) to propose a new conceptual framework that depicts ways in which HAI during the perinatal period may influence maternal and child health and wellbeing. To our knowledge, this is the first paper to consider the role of HAI in biobehavioral responses and mental health during the perinatal period. We conclude with recommendations for future research and improved perinatal care.
... In the opposite direction, maltreated children exhibited reduced CT in an extended cluster including the superior frontal gyrus and orbitofrontal cortex (Kelly et al., 2013). Furthermore, a longitudinal study reported that parental sensitivity in infancy (observed at child age between 1 and 4 years) was associated with larger total GM volume as well as thicker cortex in the middle frontal gyri at child age 8 years (Kok et al., 2015). Discrepancies between these previous results and our data may be linked to participant age and measures employed in each study. ...
Article
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The existing literature suggests that individual differences in attachment may be associated with differential trajectories of structural brain development. In addition to maturation during infancy and childhood, developmental trajectories are characteristic of adolescence, a period marked by increasingly complex interpersonal relationships and significant neurostructural and functional plasticity. Cross-sectional studies involving adolescents and adults have reported individual differences in brain structure and function associated with attachment. It remains to be examined, however, whether attachment prospectively relates to neurostructural developmental trajectories during adolescence. In this longitudinal study, we investigated whether self-reported attachment dimensions of anxiety (AX) and avoidance (AV) could predict elements of cortical thickness (CT) and subcortical volume (SV) trajectories in 95 typically developing adolescents (12-19 years old at study baseline). Self-reported scores of AX and AV were obtained at study baseline, and neurostructural development was assessed at baseline and three timepoints over the four following years. Our results revealed normative neurodevelopmental trajectories of predominantly decreasing CT, particularly at younger ages, and patterns of both decreasing and increasing SV with ageing. Self-reported AX and AV were associated with steeper CT decreases in prefrontal cortical and cortical midline structures as well as anterior temporal cortex, particularly in participants younger at study baseline. Regarding SV, preliminary differential associations were observed between developmental trajectories and attachment dimensions. Our study suggests that interindividual differences in attachment contribute to shaping neurodevelopmental trajectories for several cortical and subcortical structures during adolescence and young adulthood.
... Less attention has been directed toward "normative" variations in parenting behaviors which may be less severe but occur more commonly and therefore have the potential to impact a greater proportion of children (Morris et al., 2017;Farber et al., 2020;Bhanot et al., 2021). There is increasing evidence of a link between "normative" parenting behaviors and brain structure across childhood and adolescence (Belsky and de Haan, 2011;Kok et al., 2015;Cortes Hidalgo et al., 2021;Whittle et al., 2022). Findings suggest that positive (sensitive, warm, and supportive) and negative (intrusive, aggressive, and hostile) components of parenting may be differentially associated with the structure of cortical and sub-cortical regions, however results have been inconsistent. ...
Article
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The negative impact of adverse experiences in childhood on neurodevelopment is well documented. Less attention however has been given to the impact of variations in “normative” parenting behaviors. The influence of these parenting behaviors is likely to be marked during periods of rapid brain reorganization, such as late childhood. The aim of the current study was to investigate associations between normative parenting behaviors and the development of structural brain networks across late childhood. Data were collected from a longitudinal sample of 114 mother-child dyads (54% female children, M age 8.41 years, SD = 0.32 years), recruited from low socioeconomic areas of Melbourne, Australia. At the first assessment parenting behaviors were coded from two lab-based interaction tasks and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the children were performed. At the second assessment, approximately 18 months later ( M age 9.97 years, SD = 0.37 years) MRI scans were repeated. Cortical thickness (CT) was extracted from T1-weighted images using FreeSurfer. Structural covariance (SC) networks were constructed from partial correlations of CT estimates between brain regions and estimates of network efficiency and modularity were obtained for each time point. The change in these network measures, from Time 1 to Time 2, was also calculated. At Time 2, less positive maternal affective behavior was associated with higher modularity (more segregated networks), while negative maternal affective behavior was not related. No support was found for an association between local or global efficacy and maternal affective behaviors at Time 2. Similarly, no support was demonstrated for associations between maternal affective behaviors and change in network efficiency and modularity, from Time 1 to Time 2. These results indicate that normative variations in parenting may influence the development of structural brain networks in late childhood and extend current knowledge about environmental influences on structural connectivity in a developmental context.
... The quality of the parent-child relationship and the cumulative effect of parent-child interactions has a measurable influence not just on observable behavior but also on underlying cognitive and emotional processes, including those that underly ADHD (Pallini et al., 2019). Adverse parenting such as insensitivity, lack of responsiveness, or maltreatment can have a negative effect on brain development, whereas sensitivity and supportive parenting particularly in early childhood is significantly related to more optimal structural brain development (Belsky & de Haan, 2011;Kok et al., 2015). Such impact on brain development in turn can influence the development of ADHD symptoms (Humphreys & Zeanah, 2015;Jimenez et al., 2017;Strathearn et al., 2020) and also of executive function skills, which play a major role in ADHD (Hughes & Devine, 2017;Pallini et al., 2019). ...
Article
Parenting and family environment have significant impact on child development, including development of executive function, attention, and self-regulation, and may affect the risk of developmental disorders including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This paper examines the relationship of parenting and family environment factors with ADHD. A systematic review of the literature was conducted in 2014 and identified 52 longitudinal studies. A follow-up search in 2021 identified 7 additional articles, for a total of 59 studies that examined the association of parenting factors with ADHD outcomes: ADHD overall (diagnosis or symptoms), ADHD diagnosis specifically, or presence of the specific ADHD symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. For parenting factors that were present in three or more studies, pooled effect sizes were calculated separately for dichotomous or continuous ADHD outcomes, accounting for each study's conditional variance. Factors with sufficient information for analysis were parenting interaction quality (sensitivity/warmth, intrusiveness/reactivity, and negativity/harsh discipline), maltreatment (general maltreatment and physical abuse), parental relationship status (divorce, single parenting), parental incarceration, and child media exposure. All factors showed a significant direct association with ADHD outcomes, except sensitivity/warmth which had an inverse association. Parenting factors predicted diagnosis and overall symptoms as well as inattentive and hyperactive symptoms when measured, but multiple factors showed significant heterogeneity across studies. These findings support the possibility that parenting and family environment influences ADHD symptoms and may affect a child's likelihood of being diagnosed with ADHD. Prevention strategies that support parents, such as decreasing parenting challenges and increasing access to parent training in behavior management, may improve children's long-term developmental health.
... For example, maternal sensitivity is positively associated with children's cognitive development (Bernier et al., 2010;Malmberg et al., 2016;Merz et al., 2017), social competence (Daniel et al., 2016;Krevans & Gibbs, 1996;Newton et al., 2014), and behavior regulation (Moss et al., 2011;van Zeijl et al., 2006). In addition, there is evidence from both animal and human studies that suggests neurodevelopmental changes may be involved in bringing about these effects (Kok et al., 2015;Rilling & Young, 2014). However, the nature of most of these studies is correlational, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn about causality and the direction of effects. ...
Article
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Background Although there is a large body of literature highlighting the behavioral effects of parenting interventions, studies on the neurocognitive mechanisms involved in such intervention effects remain scarce. Purpose The aim of the current study was to test whether changes in neural face processing (as reflected in N170 amplitudes) would act as a mediator in the association between the Video-feedback Intervention to promote Positive Parenting and Sensitive Discipline (VIPP-SD) and maternal sensitivity. Methods A total of 66 mothers of whom a random 33% received the VIPP-SD and the others a “dummy” intervention participated in pre- and postintervention assessments. We recorded mothers' electroencephalographic (EEG) activity in response to photographs of children's neutral, happy, and angry facial expressions. Maternal sensitivity was observed while mothers interacted with their offspring in a semi-structured play situation. Results In contrast with our expectations, we did not find evidence for mediation of intervention effects on maternal sensitivity by the N170. Conclusion We discuss that parenting support programs may yield different effects on neurocognitive processes depending on the population and provide recommendations for future research. Our study underscores the importance of reporting null findings and preregistering studies in the field of neurocognitive research.
... Neuroimaging research has found parenting behaviors and the parent-child relationship influence children's structural and functional brain development, specifically in regions implicated in emotion awareness, processing, and regulation (Lee et al., 2017;Romund et al., 2016;Whittle et al., 2014). Studies investigating longitudinal links between parental sensitivity during infancy and structural development in childhood have found greater parental sensitivity and responsiveness predicts increased cortical thickness in children's frontal, temporal, and parietal regions, areas involved in emotion processing and social cognition, (Frye et al., 2010) as well as greater total brain and gray matter volume in children (Kok et al., 2015). Matsudaira et al. (2016) found greater parental praise was related to increased gray matter volume in the left posterior insula, a region involved in emotion processing, in children. ...
Article
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Daily interactions between parents and children play a large role in children’s emotional development and mental health. Thus, it is important to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying this association within the context of these dyadic social interactions. We suggest that examining cross-brain associations, coordinated brain responses, among parents and children increases our understanding of patterns of social and emotion-related processes that occur during parent–child interactions, which may influence the development of child emotion regulation and psychopathology. Therefore, we extend the Parent–Child Emotion Regulation Dynamics Model (Morris et al., in: Cole and Hollenstein (eds) Dynamics of emotion regulation: A matter of time, Taylor & Francis, 2018) to include cross-brain associations involved in dyadic emotion regulation during parent–child social emotional interactions and discuss how this model can inform future research and its broader applications.
... Recent work has shown that total energy expenditure during childhood is similar across populations varying widely in patterns of physical activity and environmental exposures [51], suggesting that trade-offs operate between the body's various functions to maintain total expenditure within a constrained range. In light of this, it is of interest that measures reflecting the magnitude of investment in brain structures, including cortical thickness, gray matter volume and even brain volume, are increased among children in higher socioeconomic and enriched rearing environments [52,53], while conversely cerebral blood flow is decreased in the context of low SES or traumatic experiences [54]. We speculate that factors influencing early cognitive stimulation, or stressors that impair cognitive development, could have long-term impacts on the fraction of the body's total expenditure devoted to the brain, with possible impacts on competing expenditures like growth and fat deposition [9]. ...
Article
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Background Individuals typically show a childhood nadir in adiposity termed the adiposity rebound (AR). The AR serves as an early predictor of obesity risk, with early rebounders often at increased risk; however, it is unclear why this phenomenon occurs, which could impede understandings of weight gain trajectories. The brain’s energy requirements account for a lifetime peak of 66% of the body’s resting metabolic expenditure during childhood, around the age of the AR, and relates inversely to weight gain, pointing to a potential energy trade-off between brain development and adiposity. However, no study has compared developmental trajectories of brain metabolism and adiposity in the same individuals, which would allow a preliminary test of a brain-AR link. Methods We used cubic splines and generalized additive models to compare age trajectories of previously collected MRI-based 4D flow measures of total cerebral blood flow (TCBF), a proxy for cerebral energy use, to the body mass index (BMI) in a cross-sectional sample of 82 healthy individuals (0–60 years). We restricted our AR analysis to pre-pubertal individuals (0–12 years, n = 42), predicting that peak TCBF would occur slightly after the BMI nadir, consistent with evidence that lowest BMI typically precedes the nadir in adiposity. Results TCBF and the BMI showed inverse trajectories throughout childhood, while the estimated age at peak TCBF (5.6 years) was close but slightly later than the estimated age of the BMI nadir (4.9 years). Conclusions The timing of peak TCBF in this sample points to a likely concordance between peak brain energetics and the nadir in adiposity. Inverse age trajectories between TCBF and BMI support the hypothesis that brain metabolism is a potentially important influence on early life adiposity. These findings also suggest that experiences influencing the pattern of childhood brain energy use could be important predictors of body composition trajectories.
... In addition, neuroscientific studies indicate that the first 2 years of life are a particularly sensitive period for a child's healthy and age-appropriate development, characterized by rapid brain growth and highly dynamic brain development (17)(18)(19)(20). Accordingly, adverse social experiences in early childhood are associated with altered brain volume, structure, and functioning (21)(22)(23)(24) persisting at least into young adulthood (23). At the same time, there is evidence that the first 2 years of life are also a period in which psychosocial interventions are most effective in preventing later developmental delays in children (25,26). ...
Article
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Background: The first 2 years of life are a particularly sensitive period for the parent–child relationship as well as a healthy, age-appropriate child development. Both have been shown to be linked to postpartum depressive and anxiety symptoms, while the role of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, which are also common, is still largely understudied. In addition, fathers have been neglected in this area of research. This study, which includes both mothers and fathers, aims to investigate the longitudinal associations between postpartum obsessive-compulsive symptoms and different domains of child development, as well as the mediating role of the parent–child relationship. Methods: Data were drawn from the prospective longitudinal study DREAM, with 674 mothers and 442 fathers from the general population completing self-report questionnaires at four measurement points. Longitudinal associations between parental postpartum obsessive-compulsive symptoms 8 weeks postpartum, the parent–child relationship 14 months postpartum, and child development 24 months postpartum were investigated using regression and mediation analyses. A number of potential confounding variables were considered, i.e., age, academic degree, postpartum depressive and anxiety symptoms of the parents, preterm birth and temperament of the child, as well as COVID-19 pandemic-driven adversities. Results: When adjusting for confounders, neither maternal nor paternal postpartum obsessive-compulsive symptoms had adverse effects on the respective parent–child relationship and child development. Further, no mediating role of the parent–child relationship between parental postpartum obsessive-compulsive symptoms and child development could be confirmed. Instead, we found that the mother– and father–child relationship were differentially related to specific child developmental domains. For mothers, a poorer mother–child relationship was prospectively related to poorer fine motor development. For fathers, a poorer father–child relationship prospectively predicted a poorer overall development as well as poorer gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, and personal-social development. Conclusion: Our results suggest that negative effects on the parent–child relationship and child development may only become apparent in full-blown postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. Given the differential impact on specific developmental domains, our findings also suggest that it is crucial to consider both parents in clinical practice as well as in future research, rather than focusing only on the mother–child dyad.
... The amygdala undergoes rapid changes early in development and is particularly dependent on environmental input, making it susceptible to the effects of early adversity (Tottenham et al., 2009). Even normative variation in early maternal sensitivity has measurable short-and long-term effects on amygdala development, with insensitive care leading to larger amygdala and hippocampus volumes during infancy (Rifkin-Graboi et al., 2015) and smaller hippocampal volume and total brain volume during middle childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (Kok et al., 2015;VanTieghem et al., 2021). Findings regarding associations between maltreatment and amygdala volume have been mixed (see Paquola et al., 2016 andTeicher et al., 2016 for a meta-analysis and systematic review, respectively), with psychosocial risk associated with reductions, increases, or no differences in volume. ...
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Given that human infants are almost fully reliant on caregivers for survival, the presence of parents who provide sensitive, responsive care support infants and young children in developing the foundation for optimal biological functioning. Conversely, when parents are unavailable or insensitive, there are consequences for infants’ and children’s attachment and neurobiological development. In this paper, we describe effects of inadequate parenting on children’s neurobiological and behavioral development, with a focus on developing capacities for executive functioning, emotion regulation, and other important cognitive-affective processes. Most prior research has examined correlational associations among these constructs. Given that interventions tested through randomized clinical trials allow for causal inferences, we review longitudinal intervention effects on children’s biobehavioral and cognitive-affective outcomes. In particular, we provide an overview of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, a study in which children were randomized to continue in orphanage care (typically the most extreme condition of privation) or were placed into the homes of trained, supported foster parents. We also discuss findings regarding Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up, an intervention enhancing sensitivity among high-risk parents. We conclude by suggesting future directions for research in this area.
... [8][9][10][11] Moreover, fathers' sensitivity has been found to predict brain development both in the first year 12 and in middle childhood. 13 Thus, enhancing paternal sensitivity and involvement may benefit a broad range of child developmental outcomes. ...
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Background The aim of this study was to evaluate an interaction-based prenatal parenting intervention program aimed at promoting parental sensitivity and involvement in expectant fathers using ultrasound images: Prenatal Video-Feedback Intervention to Promote Positive Parenting (VIPP-PRE). Methods In this randomized controlled trial, 73 first-time, healthy expectant fathers were enrolled. Participants were randomly assigned to the VIPP-PRE intervention ( n = 39) or a dummy intervention ( n = 34). Parental sensitivity was coded from video-recorded 10-min interactions with an infant simulator at a prenatal pretest and with fathers’ own infant at a postnatal posttest. Prenatal and postnatal involvement was assessed via an application on participants’ smartphones. Results Fathers receiving VIPP-PRE demonstrated increased sensitivity across the perinatal period, relative to fathers receiving a dummy intervention. Fathers’ involvement with the infant increased significantly from the prenatal to postnatal period, regardless of the intervention. Conclusions Prenatal video-feedback using ultrasound imaging of the unborn child has the potential to promote the quality of parenting in an important, but understudied, population and period: men in the transition to fatherhood. Future research should examine the long-term effectiveness of VIPP-PRE and its effectiveness in increasing parenting quality in at-risk families. Impact This study identifies a brief and focused prenatal intervention using assisted interactions between the father and his baby by means of ultrasound imaging as a promising strategy to improve sensitive fathering in the early postnatal phase. Our study shows that pregnancy provides a window of opportunity for promoting prenatal involvement and bonding in expectant fathers, with potential long-term benefits for the future father–child relationship. Ultrasound measures are currently used to monitor fetal growth and development, but our results suggest that they may also create an opportunity for stimulating father–infant interaction to promote postnatal caregiving quality.
... The predominance of low authoritative parenting in late-onset toilet training groups showed that early impairments in warmth and parental control could lead to an inability to control urination. Low authoritative parenting means low sensitivity to the child's needs, and it has previously been shown that these parents may impair the neurodevelopment of the child (Kok et al., 2015). As expected, the results of our study clearly support this hypothesis. ...
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This 8-week longitudinal study examined predictors of response to simple behavioral intervention in primary enuresis nocturna (PEN). A total of 154 children, aged 8–18 years, diagnosed with PEN were evaluated. The results indicated that lack of constipation, milder enuresis severity, and higher bladder capacity are the primary predictors of good treatment response, and lower family dysfunction is the most robust familial predictor. Lack of constipation is the main predictor with unique variance in multiple regression. Specialists should be aware of conditions that hinder the success of simple behavioral intervention before implementing costly treatments. In treatment-refractory cases, it is important to examine each child for constipation. Family-centered approaches can be helpful if used in parallel with behavioral treatments.
... Coders were blind to participants' intervention condition. Sensitivity and Cooperation scores were significantly and highly correlated (r = 0.65, p < 0.001), and were therefore standardized to account for mean level differences and averaged into one score indicating parental sensitivity, as in [62]. Fathers in the two groups (Expectant Fathers and New Fathers) did not differ in their level of sensitivity at 2 months (t 150 = 0.30, p = 0.76). ...
Article
How do hormonal levels in men change from pregnancy to after the birth of their firstborn child, and what is the role of oxytocin, alone or in interplay with other hormones, in explaining variance in their parenting quality? We explored in 73 first-time fathers the development of five hormones that have been suggested to play a role in parenting: oxytocin (OT), vasopressin (AVP), testosterone (T), oestradiol (E2) and cortisol (Cort). In an extended group of fathers ( N = 152) we examined associations with fathers’ behaviour with their 2-month-old infants. OT and E2 showed stability from the prenatal to the postnatal assessments, whereas AVP and T decreased significantly, and Cort decreased marginally. OT on its own or in interplay with other hormones was not related to paternal sensitivity. Using an exploratory approach, the interaction between T and E2 emerged as relevant for fathers’ sensitive parenting. Among fathers with high E2, high T was associated with lower sensitivity. Although we did not find evidence for the importance of OT as stand-alone hormone or in interplay with other hormones in this important phase in men's lives, the interaction between T and E2 in explaining variation in paternal behaviour is a promising hypothesis for further research. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Interplays between oxytocin and other neuromodulators in shaping complex social behaviours’.
... The benefits of video observation are vast, including objectivity, reliability, and opportunities for detailed analysis. In addition, large-scale longitudinal studies have found that the observations of early childhood parental sensitivity predict children's developmental outcomes later in life (e.g., Ding et al., 2020;Kok et al., 2015;Raby et al., 2015), suggesting that these video observations are ecologically valid. However, the effect sizes in these types of studies tend to be small, and very little research has studied the ecological validity of video observations of parenting directly, by examining whether the act of video observation influences the behavior under study. ...
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Research on parental sensitivity often relies on video observation of parent–infant dyads. However, to date, no study has assessed both infants’ and parents’ interactions with the camera, and how this relates to parental sensitivity levels. This exploratory study micro‐coded camera‐related behaviors (CRB) by 4‐month olds and their mothers and fathers on a 1‐s time base, and examined the associations between those behaviors and parental sensitivity in 75 Dutch families. While parents’ CRB made up only 0.8% of total interaction time, infants’ made up 12%. Multi‐level time‐series analyses showed that infants’ CRB predicted mothers’. Infants’ CRB predicted fathers’ CRB, and vice versa. Maternal sensitivity was significantly lower when children looked at the camera for over one‐third of total interaction time (Cohen's d = 1.26). These findings indicate further research is required to better understand how video observation might threaten ecological validity.
... Determining whether the NBO stand-alone intervention in a real-life setting influences mother infant interaction was a primary aim of the study. The finding is important given that even normal variation in early maternal sensitivity predicts infant structural brain development, early maternal intrusiveness predicts infant neural responses at 7 months, and both exert influence on infant attachment and later development (Huffmeijer et al., 2020;Kok et al., 2015). The clinical implication is that the NBO intervention may have the capacity to positively steer the infant's very early developmental trajectory in the presence of maternal distress via shifts in interaction quality. ...
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Research points to the significant impact of maternal distress on the parent‐infant relationship and infant development. The Newborn Behavioral Observations (NBO) is a brief intervention supporting the infant, the parent and their relationship. This randomized controlled trial examined the effectiveness of the NBO in a population with antenatal distress and risk of postnatal depression (PND). Pregnant, first‐time mothers with current anxiety or depression symptoms or past mental illness were recruited from two Australian hospitals. Participants received three NBO sessions in the first month of life plus treatment as usual (TAU), or, TAU‐only. Outcomes assessed at infant age 4 months included mother‐infant interaction quality; maternal anxiety and depression symptoms; and depression diagnosis. Of 111 pregnant individuals randomized, 90 remained eligible and 74 completed the trial (82.2% retention). There were intervention effects on emotional availability F(6, 67) = 2.52, p = .049, Cohen's d = .90, with higher sensitivity and non‐intrusiveness in the intervention group (n = 40) than the comparison group (n = 34). There was an intervention effect approaching significance for anxiety symptoms at 4 months (p = .06), and a significant effect over time (p = .014), but not for depression symptoms. Anxiety and depression symptoms significantly reduced to sub‐clinical levels within the intervention group only. There were fewer depression diagnoses (n = 6) than expected across groups, with no observed intervention effect. No adverse intervention effects were seen. Exploratory analysis of sensory processing sensitivity suggested differential susceptibility to distress and intervention benefits. The NBO was accepted and exerted meaningful effects on relationship quality and distress; and may enhance the infant's interaction experience and maternal emotional adjustment in at‐risk populations.
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The quantity and quality of social experiences with peers are likely to interact with the developing brain to shape how children respond in peer as well as other social interactions and contexts. With the advancement in neuroimaging techniques, it has become easier to measure brain responses to such environmental input across development. This is an important advancement, because studying how the brains of children respond to social environmental input elucidates the underlying mechanisms by which peer experiences may shape development. In addition to informing the basic scientific literature on child development, this information about the developing nervous system can inform assessment, diagnosis, prevention, and intervention. In the current chapter, we describe the advancement in the field of developmental social neuroscience during childhood with a specific focus on peer experiences. We present a theoretical framework designating how peer social stressors may impact brain function during development. This is followed by an overview of empirical evidence spanning experiments and correlational studies involving preschool and elementary school ages (4–12 years), with measurement of brain function using electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We conclude by providing directions for future research on peer social experiences and brain development during childhood.
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Introduction: Sensitive mother-infant interactions are important predictors of long-term mother-infant relationship, which is one factor having a positive impact on infant development. Considering preterm infants’ immaturity, mother-infant interactions and maternal sensitivity may not develop optimally. A systematic review showed that current evidence on the effectiveness of parent-infant interventions promoting parental sensitivity in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is of low to very low quality. Objective: The objective of this paper is to report the development process of a novel nursing intervention, using a theory and evidence-based approach, to enhance maternal sensitivity and preterm infant neurodevelopment in the NICU. Methods: The Medical Research Council’s guidance to develop and evaluate complex health interventions, that is an evidence and theory-based approach, was used for this study. Thus, based on the MRC framework, three main steps were conducted: 1- Identifying existing empirical evidence; 2- Identifying and developing theory; 3- Modeling processes and outcomes. Results: We developed a guided participation intervention for mothers to participate in their preterm infant’s care and positioning (‘GP_Posit’). ‘GP_Posit’ is based upon the Attachment theory, the Guided Participation theory as well as the Synactive theory of development. Conclusion: This novel intervention is being tested in a pilot randomized controlled trial (NCT03677752).
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Natural selection is a key mechanism of evolution, which results from the differential reproduction of phenotypes. We describe fecundity selection at different parity transitions on 15 anthropometric traits and educational attainment in Estonian children sampled in the middle of 20th century. The direction of selection on educational attainment and bodily traits was sexually antagonistic, and it occurred via different parity transitions in boys and girls. Compared to boys with primary education, obtaining tertiary education was associated with 3.5 times and secondary education two times higher odds of becoming a father. Transition to motherhood was not related to educational attainment, while education above primary was associated with lower odds (OR = 0.5–0.7) to progression to parities above one and two. Selection on anthropometric traits occurred almost exclusively via childlessness in boys, while among the girls, most of the traits that were associated with becoming a mother were additionally associated with a transition from one child to higher parities. Male (but not female) fitness was thus primarily determined by traits related to mating success. Selection favored stronger and larger boys and smaller girls. Selection on girls favored some traits that associate with perceived femininity, while other feminine traits were selected against. Natural selection is a key mechanism of evolution, which results from the differential reproduction of phenotypes. We describe fecundity selection at different parity transitions on 15 anthropometric traits and educational attainment in Estonian children sampled in the middle of 20th century. Selection favoured stronger and larger boys and smaller girls. Selection on girls favoured some traits that associate with perceived femininity while other feminine traits were selected against.
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Background : Measurement of social and cognitive brain development using electroencephalography (EEG) offers the potential for early identification of children with elevated risk of developmental delay. However, there have been no published reports of how acceptable EEG technology is to parents and children within communities, especially in low-resource contexts such as in low and middle income countries (LMICs), which is an important question for the potential scalability of these assessments. We use a mixed-methods approach to examine whether EEG assessments are acceptable to children and their caregivers in a low resource community setting in India. Methods : We assessed the acceptability of neurophysiology research and Braintools (a novel neurodevelopmental assessment toolkit using concurrent EEG and eye-tracking technology) using: 1) a child engagement measure, 2) interviews with caregivers (n=8); 3) survey about caregiver’s experience (n=36). Framework analysis was used to analyse interview data. Results : Key topics were examined using the framework analysis: 1) parental experience of the assessment; and 2) the acceptability of research. From topic 1, four sub-themes were identified: i) caregivers’ experience of the assessment, ii) caregivers’ perception of child's experience of assessment, iii) logistical barriers and facilitators to participation, and iv) recommendations for improvement. From topic 2, three themes were identified: i) caregivers' understanding of the research, ii) barriers to participation, and iii) facilitators to participation. Conclusions : We demonstrate for the first time the acceptability of conducting neurodevelopmental assessments using concurrent EEG and eye-tracking in preschool children in uncontrolled community LMIC settings. This kind of research appears to be acceptable to the community and we identify potential barriers and facilitators of this research, thus allowing for future large scale research projects to be conducted investigating neurodevelopment and risk factors for suboptimal development in LMICs.
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This chapter indicates the importance of quality care using Denmark as an example where (e)quality is still a considerable challenge. Despite a year-long political focus, the (dis)advantaged home area and children’s family backgrounds still have a major impact on development and performance throughout the school years, beginning at an early age. With the knowledge of the importance of quality environments, ECEC practices can prevent children from disadvantaged backgrounds from developing special needs, making high-quality ECEC a prerequisite for a more inclusive school system. This study examines the quality of 12 ECEC centres in six municipalities. The method is both qualitative and quantitative. The quantitative data were used for the selection procedure. The qualitative data show that children’s language development is connected to (dis)advantaged backgrounds. Other studies of children’s development reveal this as well. This study adds to the literature by looking at the environmental quality of the centres; here, the centres with high language scores have high environmental quality, and the centres with low language scores have lower environmental quality. This is critical to children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds because these children need high-quality ECEC to close achievement gaps. The children are faced with gaps in achievements (low language scores) and care (low ECEC environmental quality).
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This systematic review and meta-analysis examined the effectiveness of parent-infant interventions for parents of preterm infants on parental sensitivity compared to standard care or active comparators. This review follows the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines and was prospectively registered in the International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO; registration ID: CRD42016047083). Database searches were performed from inception to 2020 to identify eligible randomized controlled trials. Two review authors independently selected studies, extracted data, and assessed the risk of bias using the Cochrane risk of bias assessment tool and quality of evidence using the Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) guidelines. A total of 19 studies (n = 2,111 participants) were included and 14 were suitable to be pooled in our primary outcome meta-analysis. Results show no significant effect of parent-infant interventions over standard care or basic educational programs, on parental sensitivity. Results may not necessarily be due to the ineffectiveness of the interventions but rather due to implementation failure or high risk of bias of included studies.
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Background The number of children with prenatal polysubstance exposure is increasing. Supportive mother-child interaction is a protective factor, which can ameliorate adverse effects of prenatal polysubstance exposure on developmental outcomes. Aim To examine the role of maternal verbal scaffolding on cognitive and language development in children with prenatal polysubstance exposure. Study Design Pregnant women were recruited and we prospectively followed mother-child dyads to 20 months of age. This analysis included 66 dyads (33 healthy controls and 33 with prenatal polysubstance exposure). Multivariable linear regression modelling was used to examine the cross-sectional association between maternal scaffolding and Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (BSID-III) score, as well as an interaction between the study group and scaffolding score. Outcome measures The BSID-III cognitive and language score was used. Videotaped mother-child play was coded to obtain a maternal verbal scaffolding score. Effect sizes were measured using average differences in scores between groups. Results There was no evidence of an association between study group and maternal scaffolding scores. Children in the polysubstance exposure group had lower cognitive and language scores compared to controls, but this association was not statistically significant after controlling for maternal education. Maternal scaffolding was predictive of language scores, with scores increasing by 1.24 points on average (95% CI: 0.42, 2.06) for every 1-point increase in scaffolding score after adjustment for covariates. There was no evidence of a study group-by-scaffolding interaction with respect to the language or cognitive scores. Conclusions Maternal scaffolding during play was associated with language development in children with and without prenatal polysubstance exposure.
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Context: Children who receive more responsive care during their early childhood tend to exhibit stronger cognitive development, mental well-being, and physical health across their life course. Objective: Determine how to design effective responsivity training programs for caregivers. Data sources: We searched seven electronic databases through October 2020. Study selection: Randomized trials (k = 120) of programs training parents of children ages 0 to 6 to be more responsive. Data extraction: Two reviewers independently extracted data. Data were pooled by using random-effects pairwise and network meta-analyses. Results: Programs had, on average, a medium effect (d = 0.56; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.47 to 0.65). The most effective programs included didactic teaching and opportunities for parents to observe models, practice skills, and receive feedback (d = 1.07; 95% CI: 0.37 to 1.77), or all these instructional methods in addition to reflection (d = 0.86; 95% CI: 0.64 to 1.09). Programs that had participants observe examples of responsivity (d = 0.70; 95% CI: 0.57 to 0.83), used researchers as facilitators (d = 0.89; 95% CI: 0.66 to 1.12), assigned homework (d = 0.85; 95% CI: 0.66 to 1.02), and had a narrow scope (d = 0.72; 95% CI: 0.57 to 0.87) were more effective than those that did not. Limitations: Most samples included only mothers from Western countries and lacked follow-up data. Conclusions: Having parents observe examples of responsive caregiving and complete home-practice in short, focused programs may be an effective, scalable approach to enhancing responsivity in the general population and reducing inequalities in child development.
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Background and objectives The thrifty phenotype hypothesis proposes that at resource limitation, the growth of some organs/tissues is selectively spared to preserve more critical ones, such as the brain or lungs. The Trivers-Willard hypothesis (TWH) predicts that boys are more vulnerable in the case of resource limitation than girls. Both hypotheses were tested in children from disrupted families, differing in the extent of deprivation/adversities imposed on them. Methodology In a retrospective cohort study in the mid-twentieth century Estonia (Juhan Aul’s database), different types of orphans and children of divorced parents (treatment groups; n = 106 – 1401) were compared with children from bi-parental families (control groups; n = 2548 – 8648) so that children from treatment groups were matched with control children on the basis of sex, age, year of birth, urban vs rural origin and socioeconomic position. Results Children in orphanages suffered strong growth suppression, best explained by psychosocial deprivation. Their feet were on average 0.5 SD shorter than the feet of the controls, followed by height, leg/torso ratio and cranial volume that differed from controls by ca 0.4 SD. Weight difference was 0.2 SD units, while BMI did not differ from controls. The growth of boys and girls in orphanages was suppressed to the same extent. Boys whose mothers were dead were relatively smaller and less masculine than girls from such families. Fathers’ absence was unrelated to growth suppression. Sons of divorced parents had broader shoulders than boys whose fathers were dead. Conclusions and implications Prediction of TWH about the greater vulnerability of male growth may hold under some conditions but not universally. Predictions of the thrifty phenotype hypothesis were partly supported: trunk growth was spared at the expense of leg growth; however, no evidence for brain sparing was found. Comparison of children of divorced vs dead fathers may appear useful for indirect assessment of sexual selection on offspring quality. Lay summary Boys and girls in orphanages suffered similarly strong growth suppression, best explained by psychosocial deprivation. Boys whose mothers were dead were relatively smaller and less masculine than girls from such families. The occurrence of sex-specific associations between family structure and children’s growth depends on the type of family disruption.
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Studies show robust links between disorganized attachment in infancy and socioemotional maladjustment in childhood. Little is known, however, about the links between disorganized attachment and brain development, and whether attachment-related differences in brain morphology translate into meaningful variations in child socioemotional functioning. This study examined the links between infants' disorganized attachment behaviors toward their mothers, whole-brain regional grey matter volume and thickness, and peer rejection in late childhood. Thirty-three children and their mothers took part in this study. The Strange Situation Procedure was used to assess mother-infant attachment when infants were 18 months old. Magnetic resonance imaging was performed when they were 10 years old to assess cortical thickness and grey matter volumes. Children and teachers reported on peer rejection 1 year later, as an indicator of socioemotional maladjustment. Results indicated that disorganized attachment was not associated with grey matter volumes. However, children who exhibited more disorganized attachment behaviors in infancy had significantly thicker cortices in bilateral middle and superior frontal gyri, and extending to the inferior frontal gyrus, as well as the orbitofrontal and insular cortices in the right hemisphere in late childhood. Moreover, children with thicker cortices in these regions experienced greater peer rejection, as rated by themselves and their teachers. Although preliminary, these results are the first to indicate that disorganized attachment may play a role in cortical thickness development and that changes in cortical thickness are associated with differences in child socioemotional functioning.
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Studies of early adversity such as trauma, abuse, and neglect highlight the critical importance of quality caregiving in brain development and mental health. However, the impact of normative range variability in caregiving on such biobehavioral processes remains poorly understood. Thus, we lack an essential foundation for understanding broader, population‐representative developmental mechanisms of risk and resilience. Here, we conduct a scoping review of the extant literature centered on the question, “Is variability in normative range parenting associated with variability in brain structure and function?” After removing duplicates and screening by title, abstract, and full‐text, 23 records were included in a qualitative review. The most striking outcome of this review was not only how few studies have explored associations between brain development and normative range parenting, but also how little methodological consistency exists across published studies. In light of these limitations, we propose recommendations for future research on normative range parenting and brain development. In doing so, we hope to facilitate evidence‐based research that will help inform policies and practices that yield optimal developmental trajectories and mental health as well as extend the literature on the neurodevelopmental impact of early life stress. This scoping review centered on the question, “Is variability in normative range parenting associated with variability in brain structure and function?” We synthesize 23 relevant records and propose recommendations for future research on normative range parenting and brain development. In doing so, we hope to extend the literature beyond early life stress to further facilitate evidence‐based research that will help inform policies and practices that yield optimal developmental trajectories.
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Does the structure of an adult human brain alter in response to environmental demands? Here we use whole-brain magnetic-resonance imaging to visualize learning-induced plasticity in the brains of volunteers who have learned to juggle. We find that these individuals show a transient and selective structural change in brain areas that are associated with the processing and storage of complex visual motion. This discovery of a stimulus-dependent alteration in the brain's macroscopic structure contradicts the traditionally held view that cortical plasticity is associated with functional rather than anatomical changes.
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SYNOPSIS: Objective. Relations between maternal and paternal expressed emotion during pregnancy and observed sensitive parenting behavior of mothers (N = 553) and fathers (N = 518) in early childhood were examined. Design. Expressed emotion, represented by emotional overinvolvement and criticism, was measured around the 34th week of gestation using an adapted version of the Five-Minute Speech Sample. Maternal and paternal sensitivity, indexed by supportiveness and intrusiveness, was observed in a semi-structured interaction between parent and child at age 4. Multilevel analyses were conducted to account for shared variance among the families. Associations between expressed emotion and sensitive parenting behavior were subsequently stratified by parent gender. Results. Emotional overinvolvement during pregnancy was associated with lower levels of sensitive parenting. More specifically, mothers’ emotional overinvolvement was related to lower levels of supportive parenting, and fathers’ overinvolvement was related to higher levels of intrusiveness. Criticism during pregnancy was not associated with dimensions of sensitivity. Conclusions. Mothers’ and fathers’ emotional overinvolvement before the birth of their child was differently related to supportive and intrusive parenting 4 years later, suggesting gender-specific effects of parental expressed emotion.
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We present new empirical data and meta-analytic evidence for the association of childhood maltreatment with reduced hippocampal volume. In Study 1, we examined the effects of maltreatment experiences reported during the Adult Attachment Interview on hippocampal volume in female twin pairs. We found that reduced hippocampal volume was related to childhood maltreatment. In addition, individuals who reported having experienced maltreatment at older ages had larger reductions in hippocampal volume compared to individuals who reported maltreatment in early childhood. In Study 2, we present the results of a meta-analysis of 49 studies (including 2,720 participants) examining hippocampal volume in relation to experiences of child maltreatment, and test the moderating role of the timing of the maltreatment, the severity of maltreatment, and the time after exposure to maltreatment. The results of the meta-analysis confirmed that experiences of childhood maltreatment are associated with a reduction in hippocampal volume and that the effects of maltreatment are more pronounced when the maltreatment occurs in middle childhood compared to early childhood or adolescence.
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Brain Life events Childhood adversity 5-HTTLPR Affective disorders Cerebellum Exposure to childhood adversities (CA) is associated with subsequent alterations in regional brain grey matter volume (GMV). Prior studies have focused mainly on severe neglect and maltreatment. The aim of this study was to determine in currently healthy adolescents if exposure to more common forms of CA results in reduced GMV. Effects on brain structure were investigated using voxel-based morphometry in a cross-sectional study of youth recruited from a population-based longitudinal cohort. 58 participants (mean age = 18.4) with (n = 27) or without (n = 31) CA exposure measured retrospectively from maternal interview were included in the study. Measures of recent negative life events (RNLE) recorded at 14 and 17 years, current depressive symptoms, gender, participant/parental psychiatric history, current family functioning perception and 5-HTTLPR genotype were covariates in analyses. A multivariate analysis of adversities demonstrated a general association with a widespread distributed neural network consisting of cortical midline, lateral frontal, temporal, limbic, and cere-bellar regions. Univariate analyses showed more specific associations between adversity measures and regional GMV: CA specifically demonstrated reduced vermis GMV and past psychiatric history with reduced medial tem-poral lobe volume. In contrast RNLE aged 14 was associated with increased lateral cerebellar and anterior cingu-late GMV. We conclude that exposure to moderate levels of childhood adversities occurring during childhood and early adolescence exerts effects on the developing adolescent brain. Reducing exposure to adverse social environ-ments during early life may optimize typical brain development and reduce subsequent mental health risks in adult life.
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Little work has been conducted that examines the effects of positive environmental experiences on brain development to date. The aim of this study was to prospectively investigate the effects of positive (warm and supportive) maternal behavior on structural brain development during adolescence, using longitudinal structural MRI. Participants were 188 (92 female) adolescents, who were part of a longitudinal adolescent development study that involved mother-adolescent interactions and MRI scans at approximately 12 years old, and follow-up MRI scans approximately 4 years later. FreeSurfer software was used to estimate the volume of limbic-striatal regions (amygdala, hippocampus, caudate, putamen, pallidum, and nucleus accumbens) and the thickness of prefrontal regions (anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices) across both time points. Higher frequency of positive maternal behavior during the interactions predicted attenuated volumetric growth in the right amygdala, and accelerated cortical thinning in the right anterior cingulate (males only) and left and right orbitofrontal cortices, between baseline and follow up. These results have implications for understanding the biological mediators of risk and protective factors for mental disorders that have onset during adolescence.
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IMPORTANCE The study provides novel data to inform the mechanisms by which poverty negatively impacts childhood brain development. OBJECTIVE To investigate whether the income-to-needs ratio experienced in early childhood impacts brain development at school age and to explore the mediators of this effect. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS This study was conducted at an academic research unit at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis. Data from a prospective longitudinal study of emotion development in preschool children who participated in neuroimaging at school age were used to investigate the effects of poverty on brain development. Children were assessed annually for 3 to 6 years prior to the time of a magnetic resonance imaging scan, during which they were evaluated on psychosocial, behavioral, and other developmental dimensions. Preschoolers included in the study were 3 to 6 years of age and were recruited from primary care and day care sites in the St Louis metropolitan area; they were annually assessed behaviorally for 5 to 10 years. Healthy preschoolers and those with clinical symptoms of depression participated in neuroimaging at school age/early adolescence. EXPOSURE Household poverty as measured by the income-to-needs ratio. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Brain volumes of children's white matter and cortical gray matter, as well as hippocampus and amygdala volumes, obtained using magnetic resonance imaging. Mediators of interest were caregiver support/hostility measured observationally during the preschool period and stressful life events measured prospectively. RESULTS Poverty was associated with smaller white and cortical gray matter and hippocampal and amygdala volumes. The effects of poverty on hippocampal volume were mediated by caregiving support/hostility on the left and right, as well as stressful life events on the left. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE The finding that exposure to poverty in early childhood materially impacts brain development at school age further underscores the importance of attention to the well-established deleterious effects of poverty on child development. Findings that these effects on the hippocampus are mediated by caregiving and stressful life events suggest that attempts to enhance early caregiving should be a focused public health target for prevention and early intervention. Findings substantiate the behavioral literature on the negative effects of poverty on child development and provide new data confirming that effects extend to brain development. Mechanisms for these effects on the hippocampus are suggested to inform intervention.
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We used structural MRI and EEG to examine brain structure and function in typically developing children in Romania (n = 20), children exposed to institutional rearing (n = 29), and children previously exposed to institutional rearing but then randomized to a high-quality foster care intervention (n = 25). In so doing, we provide a unique evaluation of whether placement in an improved environment mitigates the effects of institutional rearing on neural structure, using data from the only existing randomized controlled trial of foster care for institutionalized children. Children enrolled in the Bucharest Early Intervention Project underwent a T1-weighted MRI protocol. Children with histories of institutional rearing had significantly smaller cortical gray matter volume than never-institutionalized children. Cortical white matter was no different for children placed in foster care than never-institutionalized children but was significantly smaller for children not randomized to foster care. We were also able to explain previously reported reductions in EEG α-power among institutionally reared children compared with children raised in families using these MRI data. As hypothesized, the association between institutionalization and EEG α-power was partially mediated by cortical white matter volume for children not randomized to foster care. The increase in white matter among children randomized to an improved rearing environment relative to children who remained in institutional care suggests the potential for developmental "catch up" in white matter growth, even following extreme environmental deprivation.
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A fundamental question in the discipline of developmental psychopathology is whether early interpersonal experiences influence maladaptation in enduring or transient ways. We address this issue by applying a structural modeling approach developed by us to examine data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development on maternal sensitivity in the first 3 years of life and its association with symptoms of psychopathology through age 15. Results suggest that there may be enduring effects of early caregiving experiences on symptomatology as rated by teachers, although such effects were not found for maternal report. Additional analyses indicated that enduring associations found via teacher report could not be fully accounted for by continuity in caregiving experiences or by early contextual adversity.
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Abstract— The past several decades have seen tremendous progress in understanding mammalian brain development. The models that have emerged suggest that this development is dynamic and, from the very beginning, involves the continuous interaction of genetic, organismic, and environmental factors. The central question posed in this article is whether these models of brain development should be of import to developmental psychologists. It is argued that the key debates in psychology are founded on assumptions that are integrally related to questions of biology and biological inheritance. The construct of innateness, in particular, is central to these debates, and the biological system most critically implicated in claims about innate behaviors is the brain. However, as this article attempts to show, the underlying assumptions of contemporary psychological models reflect largely outdated ideas about what it means for something to be innate. Contemporary models of brain development challenge the foundational constructs of the nature versus nurture formulation, emphasizing that the processes of brain development engage both inherited and environmental factors and rely upon their continuous interaction. These models also emphasize that the relationship between brain and behavioral development is one of interdependence and reciprocity: Behaviors influence brain development and the brain mediates all behavior. Thus, the key to understanding the origins and emergence of both the brain and behavior lies in understanding how genetic, organismic, and environmental factors are engaged in the dynamic and interactive processes that define development of the neurobehavioral system.
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