Sensory Processing Sensitivity as a Marker of Differential Susceptibility to Parenting

ArticleinDevelopmental Psychology 54(3) · November 2017with 1,238 Reads
Abstract
In this longitudinal multiinformant study negative emotionality and sensory processing sensitivity were compared as susceptibility markers among kindergartners. Participating children (N = 264, 52.9% boys) were Dutch kindergartners (Mage = 4.77, SD = 0.60), followed across three waves, spaced seven months apart. Results show that associations between parenting and child behavior did not depend on children’s negative emotionality. Sensory processing sensitivity, however, interacted with both (changes in) negative and (changes in) positive parenting in predicting externalizing, but not prosocial, behavior. Depending on the interaction, vantage sensitivity and differential susceptibility models were supported. The findings suggest that sensory processing sensitivity may be a more proximal correlate of individual differences in susceptibility, compared with negative emotionality.

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    A sample of 335 five-year-old children participating in an ongoing longitudinal study was the focus of a study on the effects of emotional and behavioral challenge on cardiac activity in children with different patterns of early childhood behavior problems. The children were placed in one of three behavior problem groups (low behavior problems, risk for externalizing problems, risk for mixed externalizing/internalizing problems) based on their scores on the Child Behavior Checklist for 4-18-year-olds [Achenbach, T.M., 1991. Integrative guide for the 1991 CBCL/4-18, YSR & TRF profiles. University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry, Burlington, VT], completed by their mothers. To assess cardiac vagal regulation, resting measures of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and RSA change (vagal withdrawal) to five emotionally and behaviorally challenging tasks were derived. In addition, heart period (HP) and heart period change (HR acceleration) was examined. Results indicated that the behavior problem groups did not differ in terms of resting measures of either RSA or HP. Analyses of the challenge tasks indicated that the children at risk for mixed problems displayed greater cardiac vagal withdrawal across the five tasks than did the other two groups of children. There was a trend for the children at risk for externalizing problems to display less vagal withdrawal than the control group. In addition, the children at risk for mixed problems displayed greater heart rate acceleration to the tasks than did the other two groups of children. Follow-up analyses indicated that the greater cardiac acceleration observed in the mixed group was largely a function of greater vagal withdrawal. These findings are discussed in terms of the emotion regulatory function of cardiac vagal regulation, and its implications for patterns of risk for behavior problems in young children.
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    Findings from 2 longitudinal studies replicate and considerably extend past work on child temperament as a moderating link between parenting and successful socialization outcomes. In Study 1 (N = 106 mothers and children), child fearfulness, mother-child positive relationship, and maternal power assertion were assessed at 22 and 33 months; the outcome--children's moral self--was assessed at 56 months. In Study 2 (N = 102 mothers, fathers, and children), child fearfulness and parent-child positive relationship were assessed at 7 and 15 months; parents' power assertion was assessed at 15 months. The outcomes were children's receptive, willing stance toward the parent at 25 months, and rule-compatible conduct without supervision at 38 months. Child fearfulness significantly moderated the impact of parenting: In both studies, for relatively fearless children, mother-child positive relationship predicted future successful socialization outcomes in mother-child dyads. There was no analogous moderation effect in father-child dyads in Study 2. For relatively fearful children, fathers' power assertion in Study 2 predicted poor socialization outcomes. All Temperament x Parenting interactions appeared limited to measures obtained in the 2nd year.
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