For the Little People

Kevin Lewis

December 05, 2021

Parent Contributions to the Development of Political Attitudes in Adoptive and Biological Families
Emily Willoughby et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Where do our political attitudes originate? Although early research attributed the formation of such beliefs to parent and peer socialization, genetically sensitive designs later clarified the substantial role of genes in the development of sociopolitical attitudes. However, it has remained unclear whether parental influence on offspring attitudes persists beyond adolescence. In a unique sample of 394 adoptive and biological families with offspring more than 30 years old, biometric modeling revealed significant evidence for genetic and nongenetic transmission from both parents for the majority of seven political-attitude phenotypes. We found the largest genetic effects for religiousness and social liberalism, whereas the largest influence of parental environment was seen for political orientation and egalitarianism. Together, these findings indicate that genes, environment, and the gene–environment correlation all contribute significantly to sociopolitical attitudes held in adulthood, and the etiology and development of those attitudes may be more important than ever in today’s rapidly changing sociopolitical landscape. 

Trends in the Economic Wellbeing of Unmarried-Parent Families with Children: New Estimates Using an Improved Measure of Poverty
Christopher Wimer et al.
Population Research and Policy Review, December 2021, Pages 1253–1276

Children born to unmarried parents make up an increasing share of American children. But official poverty statistics provide little insight into their economic well-being because these statistics use an outdated definition of the family unit and an incomplete measure of family resources. Using Current Population Survey data and an improved measure of poverty, the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, we reassess long-term trends in poverty for children in unmarried parent families — those led by single mothers, those led by single fathers, and those led by cohabiting couples — as opposed to their counterparts in married couple families. We find that single-mother families have the highest poverty rates among families, both historically and today, but the improved measure shows much larger declines in single-mother families’ poverty rates over time. Single-father and cohabiting families also have high poverty rates, but those rates have also fallen by approximately one third since the 1960s. 

Contraceptive Consistency and Poverty After Birth
Polina Zvavitch et al.
Population Research and Policy Review, December 2021, Pages 1277–1311

Unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. disproportionately occur among poor, less educated, and minority women, but it is unclear whether poverty following a birth is itself an outcome of this pregnancy planning status. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (n = 2101) and National Survey of Family Growth (n = 778), we constructed 2-year sequences of contraceptive use before a birth that signal an unplanned versus a planned birth. We regressed poverty in the year of the birth both on this contraceptive-sequence variable and on sociodemographic indicators including previous employment and poverty status in the year before the birth, race/ethnicity, education, partnership status, birth order, and family background. Compared to sequences indicating a planned birth, sequences of inconsistent use and non-use of contraception were associated with a higher likelihood of poverty following a birth, both before and after controlling for sociodemographic variables, and before and after additionally controlling for poverty status before the birth. In pooled-survey estimates with all controls included, having not used contraception consistently is associated with a 42% higher odds of poverty after birth. The positive association of poverty after birth with contraceptive inconsistency or non-use, however, is limited to women with low to medium educational attainment. These findings encourage further exploration into relationships between contraceptive access and behavior and subsequent adverse outcomes for the mother and her children. 

Association between maternal adverse childhood experiences and neonatal SCG5 DNA methylation — effect modification by prenatal home visiting
Alonzo Folger et al.
American Journal of Epidemiology, forthcoming

Maternal childhood adversity and trauma may elicit biological changes that impact the next generation through epigenetic responses measured in DNA methylation (DNAm). These epigenetic associations could be modified by the early postnatal environment through protective factors such as early childhood home visiting (HV) programs that aim to mitigate deleterious intergenerational impacts of adversity. In a cohort of 53 mother-child pairs recruited 2015-2016 in the Pregnancy and Infant Development Study (Cincinnati, Ohio), we examined the association between maternal adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and neonatal DNAm in the SCG5 gene important in neuroendocrine function. We examined prenatal HV as an effect modifier. Mothers completed the ACE measure prenatally and infant buccal samples were collected at 1-month post-partum. Multivariable linear regression was used to examine the association between maternal ACEs and neonatal DNAm expressed as M-values averaged across 4 Cytosine-phosphate-Guanine dinucleotide sites. Higher maternal ACEs (>3) was associated with a 5.79 percentage point lower offspring DNAm (95% confidence interval: -10.44, -1.14), and the association was modified by the number of HVs received during pregnancy. In a population of at-risk mother-child dyads, preliminary evidence suggests that maternal ACEs have a relationship with offspring SCG5 DNAm that differs by the amount of prenatal HV. 

Genetically informed, multilevel analysis of the Flynn Effect across four decades and three WISC versions
Evan Giangrande et al.
Child Development, forthcoming

This study investigated the systematic rise in cognitive ability scores over generations, known as the Flynn Effect, across middle childhood and early adolescence (7–15 years; 291 monozygotic pairs, 298 dizygotic pairs; 89% White). Leveraging the unique structure of the Louisville Twin Study (longitudinal data collected continuously from 1957 to 1999 using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children [WISC], WISC–R, and WISC–III ed.), multilevel analyses revealed between-subjects Flynn Effects — as both decrease in mean scores upon test re-standardization and increase in mean scores across cohorts — as well as within-child Flynn Effects on cognitive growth across age. Overall gains equaled approximately three IQ points per decade. Novel genetically informed analyses suggested that individual sensitivity to the Flynn Effect was moderated by an interplay of genetic and environmental factors. 

Taking a few deep breaths significantly reduces children's physiological arousal in everyday settings: Results of a preregistered video intervention
Jelena Obradović, Michael Sulik & Emma Armstrong-Carter
Developmental Psychobiology, December 2021

This preregistered, randomized field experiment tested the effectiveness of a brief deep breathing intervention on children's concurrent physiological arousal in naturalistic settings (N  = 342; Mage = 7.48 years; 46% female; 53% Asian, 26% White; 21% other race/ethnicity). The treatment consisted of an animated video that introduced deep breathing as a self-regulation strategy and scaffolded the child in taking a few slow-paced breaths, while the control group watched an informational video featuring similar animated images. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and heart rate (HR) were measured while children were sitting still (baseline) and subsequently while watching 1-min videos. Relative to baseline arousal, RSA increased and HR decreased only in response to the deep-breathing treatment video. Effects were larger in the second 30-s epoch of the video, which included most of the deep breathing practice. RSA fully mediated the intervention's effects on HR. By analyzing all children exposed to intervention video regardless of their engagement in the deep breathing practice (intention-to-treat design) and by using easily scalable treatment videos, the study identifies an effective and pragmatic approach to reducing children's physiological arousal in everyday, group settings. Implications for advancing applied developmental psychophysiological research are discussed. 

“Don’t give up!”: Can the competitiveness and difficulty of video games build persistence for a subsequent non-gaming task?
John Velez et al.
Journal of Media Psychology, forthcoming

The determination exhibited by players is a valuable quality in other contexts that require persistence. Research suggests that competitive and difficult video game play may acclimate players to arduous challenges and steel them against later hardships. Participants played competitively (one-on-one) or cooperatively with a non-player character (two-on-two) against non-player character opponents of varying difficulty (e.g., easy, moderate, or hard) in Super Smash Bros. Subsequent persistence was measured by time spent on an anagram task that included unsolvable items. Results suggest that video game competitiveness is necessary to facilitate subsequent persistence. However, the difficulty of opponents did not influence players’ subsequent persistence, even when withstanding the most competence-thwarting game play against hard opponents. The current study suggests that competitive play, in general, sufficiently jumpstarts persistent behaviors in players and that, instead of players cultivating persistence by enduring frustrating game play, they may be invigorated or enticed to attain goals when challenged.


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