Socioemotional Development In Context

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Because the young of the human species cannot thrive outside of a relational context (Tobach & Schnierla, 1968), in order to understand infant socioemotional development, one must understand also the broader caregiving context. This sentiment, illustrated by Winnicott's celebrated statement that "there is no such thing as an infant" (Winnicott, 1965), sets the framework for this chapter. By its very definition socioemotional development invokes relationships. The mother-infant relationship is central to popular and scientific images of social and emotional development in infancy. This emphasis occurs because of cultural and theoretical traditions emphasizing that the sensitivity, warmth, and responsiveness of this first and primary relationship shapes a baby's initial, and in some conceptualizations continuing, social dispositions and expectations for others. Later in this chapter we examine research concerning this relationship, especially within the context of attachment theory. It is important first, however, to establish a broader framework for our discussion of early socioemotional development by considering how social and emotional responding and the very relationships that develop transactionally (Sameroff & Chandler, 1975) are shaped by the psychobiological context of neurological development and temperament, as well as by the broader social contexts of culture and family.

Psychobiological Context Neurobiological Underpinnings

Infancy is a period of rapid physical and neurological growth, second only to the prenatal months in the scope and pace of development. This has significant implications for the changes that occur in emotional and social responding (see chapter by Gunnar & Davis in this volume). Emotional development is predicated on the growth of richly interconnected brain structures and hormonal influences that organize the arousal-activation and regulatory-recovery interplay of emotional behavior (LeDoux, 1996; Schore, 1994). Because emotions are biologically essential features of human functioning in that they are critical to the very survival of the infant from the earliest postnatal days, they are based on regions of the human nervous system that develop very early, including structures of the limbic system and the brain stem. The capacity of a newborn to exhibit distress, excitement, and rage reflects the early emergence of these deeply biologically rooted emotional brain systems.

Major advances in emotional responding occur during the initial years of life as a result of developmental changes in central neurobiological systems, including maturation in adrenocortical activation and parasympathetic regulation systems, and the slow growth of frontal regions of the neo-cortex that exert regulatory control over limbic activation (Gunnar, 1986; Porges, Doussard-Roosevelt, & Maiti, 1994;

Thompson, 1994). This development helps to account for the ontogeny of the newborn, whose unpredictable swings of arousal can be disconcerting to neonate and caregivers alike, into the emotionally more nuanced and well-regulated toddler, who is capable of responding emotionally to a wide range of events and whose emotional reactions can be managed by self and others. There are, of course, significant advances in emotional development yet to occur in childhood and adolescence with further growth in these and other brain processes.

For decades we have recognized that caregivers play a role in the infant's psychobiological organization. Sander (1964), for example, proposed that the first role of the care-giver was to aid the infant in achieving physiological regulation. There is intriguing recent evidence that individual differences in the quality of caregiving can influence the development of these neurobiological systems when early experiences are highly stressful (Gunnar, 2000; chapter by Gunnar & Davis in this volume) or when mothers are seriously or chronically depressed (Dawson & Ashman, 2000). This research suggests that development of the physiological systems managing emotion and coping is impaired by experiences of chronic stress when the caregiver is either the source of stress or fails to buffer it.

Although the topic of early brain development and its role in shaping cognitive and emotional development has enjoyed both scientific and popular currency during the last decade, it is important to understand the extent to which findings representing acute or chronic severe deprivation or stressors apply more broadly. At present there is little evidence that more typical variations in early care have a significant impact on individual differences in brain development. Nor is there strong evidence that time-limited critical periods or "windows of opportunity" exist for early socioemotional development during which essential experiential catalysts are required for the young brain to develop normally—this despite widely publicized claims to the contrary (Thompson, 2002; Thompson & Nelson, 2001). In other words, much of early brain development is experience expectant rather than experience dependent. In most cases, the typical circumstances of early care afford many opportunities for healthy social and emotional development to occur; caregivers who are not abusive or neglectful typically provide these opportunities in the course of their everyday social interactions with the infants in their care (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). For development to proceed otherwise would indicate a very fragile system indeed.

Because of these developmental changes in the neurobio-logical systems governing early social and emotional responding, it is not surprising that temperamental individuality also emerges and flourishes during infancy. The construct of temperament has eluded firm definition. Scientists enumerating the dimensions that comprise the domain of temperament have reported from three to nine dimensions (Chess & Thomas, 1986; Rothbart & Bates, 1998). Some of the most distinctive temperamental attributes that characterize infants at birth are based on emotional response tendencies, whether they concern the baby's dominant mood, adaptability, sootha-bility, or reactions to novelty. In general, most theorists agree that aspects of temperament involve biologically based, heritable, response tendencies that involve emotionality, activity, and attention (see chapter by Cummings, Braungart-Rieker, & Rocher-Schudlich in this volume; Rothbart & Bates, 1998) and that are somewhat stable across time and context.

Temperamental individuality describes not only emotional response tendencies but also self-regulatory qualities (Goldsmith et al., 1987; Kagan, 1998; Rothbart & Bates, 1998); each of these has implications for social interactions and relationships. Young children who are behaviorally shy in response to new people or situations, for example, are displaying a temperamental attribute that is both emotional in quality (i.e., fearful) and self-regulatory (i.e., inhibited), with profound implications for the child's social functioning (Kagan, 1998). Both reactive and self-regulatory aspects of temperament are based on early-emerging biological individuality founded on differences in neuroendocrine functioning, the reactivity of subcortical or sympathetic nervous system structures, variability in parasympathetic regulation, or other nervous system processes (Rothbart & Bates, 1998).

The Construct of Temperament

Because infant socioemotional development is embedded in a relational context, understanding the construct of temperament is key. Because social relationships are influenced by temperament, they also have an effect on the expression of temperamental individuality. A young child's temperamental profile significantly influences how the child interacts with people in at least two ways. Temperamental qualities tend to evoke certain reactions from others (e.g., a temperamentally positive infant naturally elicits smiles and interest from others, paving the way for the development of mutually satisfying relationships) as well as shape a child's preferences for certain partners, settings, and activities (e.g., a temperamentally shy child tends to withdraw from unfamiliar social situations; Scarr & McCartney, 1983). Thus, temperamental qualities shape social and emotional growth because they channel the young child's early experiences in particular ways.

This interactional stance implies that early socioemotional growth can be significantly affected by how well a young child's temperamental profile accords with the requirements of his or her social settings, a concept known as goodness of fit (e.g., Chess & Thomas, 1986; see also chapters by Eccles, Wigfield, & Byrnes and by Lerner, Anderson, Balsano, Dowling, & Bobek in this volume). A temperamentally shy child is likely to be happier and become less withdrawn, for example, when parents are tolerant and accommodating to the child's need for greater support and time with new partners. These parents may want to invite a potential sitter into their home on several occasions while they remain at home, before they leave their infant alone with the new caregiver. By contrast, even a temperamentally easy-going child will have difficulty in settings where social demands are excessive and developmentally inappropriate. Because of this, social experiences can considerably modify the behavioral manifestations of temperamental qualities a baby exhibits at birth. The interactions, or transactions, between the child's constitutional makeup and the social "surround" acknowledge a more dynamic view of temperament than previously recognized (e.g., Lerner, 2002).

In light of this, and in view of the remarkable psychobio-logical advances of the early years, it is perhaps unsurprising that temperamental characteristics in infancy are only modestly predictive of later temperament, or of other behavior in the years that follow (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). Stronger evidence for enduring associations between temperament and later behavior begins to appear in children after the second birthday (Caspi, 1998; Sanson, Prior, Oberklaid, & Smart, 1998; see also chapter by Cummings, Braungart-Rieker, & Rocher-Schudlich in this volume), perhaps because many of the biological foundations of temperament have consolidated after infancy (although some continue to mature throughout childhood). An additional factor may be measurement artifact, with greater difficulty measuring appropriate manifestations of temperament in the early years. Stronger continuity after infancy also may be advanced by the fact that the 2-year-old is a more self-aware child whose developing self-understanding is likely to incorporate temperamental qualities that cause the child to perceive herself, and to respond to situations, in temperament-consistent ways. Thus, temperamental qualities in infancy may not foreshadow the personality of the adult, although they are significant for shaping the quality of a baby's social interactions with others.

There are, however, notable exceptions to this conclusion, namely the work on temperamental shyness or behavioral inhibition and work involving the construct of temperamental difficulty. Behavioral inhibition, associated with a unique physiological pattern including high and stable heart rate, elevated baseline cortisol, right frontal electroencephalo-graph (EEG) activation, and negative emotional and motor reactivity to the unfamiliar (e.g., Calkins, Fox, & Marshall, 1996; Kagan, Reznick, & Snidman, 1987; Schmidt, Shahinfar, & Fox, 1996), has been identified early in infancy (Fox, Henderson, Rubin, Calkins, & Schmidt, 2001; Kagan & Snidman, 1991). Some work shows that the extremes of inhibition and the opposite end of the continuum, exuberance or uninhibited behavior, demonstrate considerable continuity from early infancy into toddlerhood and childhood (Fox et al., 2001; Kagan et al., 1987; Kagan & Snidman, 1991; Kagan, Snidman, & Arcus, 1998). Despite the stability, there also is lawful discontinuity in the behavioral manifestations of this pattern, with more early-inhibited children later showing decreased inhibition than early low-reactive or uninhibited children demonstrating later behavioral inhibition. Multiple factors may be implicated by this pattern of findings. Societal norms of desired behavior (e.g., positive affect, independence, sociability) may push for control of negative affect and manifestations of inhibition. Environmental factors may play an additional role. Fox et al. (2001) reported that infants who became less inhibited had significant out-of-home care experiences during the first two years. Whether these experiences with multiple caregivers, peers, and environments contributed to decreases in behavioral inhibition or whether differences among the groups in parent personality or child temperament affected families' decisions to place children in out-of-home care is a question that remains unanswered.

In addition to the intriguing work on behavioral inhibition, temperament research that demonstrates some measure of continuity from infancy into childhood utilizes the construct of temperamental difficulty (Chess & Thomas, 1986). Temperamental difficulty is a constellation of qualities that includes negative mood, frequent and intense negative emotional behavior, irregularity, poor adaptability, and demand-ingness. As was suggested by the research on temperamental inhibition, the interaction, or transaction, of temperamental characteristics and environmental characteristics aids prediction of long-term continuity or consequences. Difficult temperament in infancy is significantly more prognostic of later psychosocial difficulties because this constellation of characteristics is likely to create and maintain problems in early interactions with others and to color many aspects of early experience compared to other temperamental configurations (Bates, 1987; Rothbart & Bates, 1998).

Relational Context

Contrary to traditional maturationist views (e.g., Gesell, 1940), therefore, the infant is psychobiologically constituted by early experiences as well as heredity. This is one reason for interest in early caregiving relationships that sensitively accommodate to the infant's temperamental qualities and offer support for the unfolding of positive emotional and social dispositions. The research evidence reviewed earlier suggesting that neurobiological systems governing emotion and coping with stress can be affected by abusive or neglectful care, by the caregiver's serious depression, and possibly by other chronic experiences not yet studied contributes further to an appreciation of the importance of these relationships for healthy psychobiological growth.

But the social context of infancy extends far beyond relationships with primary caregivers to include other family members, including fathers and siblings. Although early relationships with these partners have been studied much less, infants develop qualitatively distinct modes of interaction with their fathers and older siblings that arise from the unique social experiences that they have with each (Dunn, 1993; Lamb, 1997). Infant-father interactions are characterized by exuberant, emotionally animated physical play, for example, that helps to account for a baby's excitement in the father's presence (Lamb, 1997; Parke & Tinsley, 1987). These characteristics of many father-infant play interactions may in part account for the importance of the father-child relationship to emotional regulation and control (Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1997). Although style of paternal involvement (warmth, sensitivity) is linked to positive outcomes for children, amount of involvement is not (Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1985; Elder, Van Nguyen, & Caspi, 1985; Lamb, 1997).

Siblings also are unique sources of social and emotional understanding as young children carefully observe, interpret, and inquire about their behavior directly with the sibling or with others in the family (Dunn, 1998). In fact, sibling relationships may play a very important role in the emotional and social development of infants, given the special nature of the relationships. Sibling relationships, notable for their emotional intensity, provide ample opportunities for observing, experiencing, and interpreting both positive and negative emotions. Although sibling rivalry may be accompanied by intense competition and negative emotions, parents also state that siblings often can most easily induce positive mood in infants. These observations, combined with the role structure of sibling relationships, may serve as a catalyst for developmental growth in infants' social and emotional repertoire. In part, this may be due to the fact that the demands of sibling relationships may encourage infants to stretch emotionally in ways that relationships with parents or other adult caregivers do not.

Whereas the direct interactions between infants and their family members are recognized as important, far less attention has been devoted to the indirect effect of other relationships, in terms of both their influence on infant development and the ways in which they are influenced by a developing infant. Positive marital relationships are more likely to be associated with sensitive parent-infant interactions because marital harmony is thought to provide support for the sometimes-difficult tasks of parenting (Gottman et al., 1997; Goldberg & Easterbrooks, 1984). Conversely, marital conflict is associated with less optimal parent-infant interaction and infant adjustment (e.g., attachment, emotion regulation; Cummings & Davies, 1994). In similar fashion, the extent to which fathers become actively involved in caregiving responsibilities significantly affects the extent to which mothers feel stressed or supported in their caregiving role.

The social ecology of infancy extends significantly beyond the family, of course, to include relationships with adults and peers in out-of-home care (see chapter by Fitzgerald, Mann, Cabrera, & Wong in this volume). This means that early social and emotional development is shaped not only by the quality of the relationship with the primary caregiver but also by relationships with a range of partners of varying developmental status and different characteristics who are encountered in widely varying social contexts (Howes, 1999). Zimmerman and McDonald (1995) reported, for example, that infant emotional availability was distinct with mothers and other adult caregivers (e.g., fathers, day care providers).

Research in the 1970s and 1980s established that infant peer relationships develop as early as the first year of life and help to define the structure and content of these interactions (Adamson & Bakeman, 1985; Howes, 1988; Mueller & Vandell, 1979). Although infant peer relationships involve both positive and negative emotions (Adamson & Bakeman, 1985; Hay, Nash, & Pedersen, 1983), positive affect predominates.

Familial and nonfamilial relationships may have overlapping or independent influences on early psychosocial growth. Recognizing these patterns undermines any assumption that, within this broad social ecology, a baby's social and emotional dispositions arise from social encounters with the mother alone. In fact, several studies suggest that relationships with nonparental caregivers are more predictive of later social skills than are relationships with parents (Oppenheim, Sagi, & Lamb, 1988). Indeed, understanding how different social partners have unique and overlapping influences on early socioe-motional growth is one of the significant research challenges in this field.

Cultural Context

Uniting these diverse social influences are the values of the culture. Cultural values define the needs and characteristics of infants, the roles and responsibilities of caregivers, and the goals of child development that are based on the mature attributes that are consensually valued (see chapter by Saraswathi & Mistry in this volume). Cultural beliefs and values guide the behavior of caregivers, family members, and others in the community with an interest in young children and, in doing so, shape the ecology of infant care (New, 2001). For example, among the Efe, a foraging community in the forests of Zaire, infants receive care from birth by many adults besides the mother, and this intense social contact leads to strong connections with many people in the community (Morelli & Tronick, 1991; Tronick, Morelli, & Winn, 1987). This cultural pattern of infant care not only ensures that young children are protected by accommodating to the wide-ranging foraging activities of men and women, but also incorporates diverse community members into infant care and socializes infants into the intrinsically interactive, cooperative features of community life.

Culture is not synonymous with nationality. Within the United States and other heterogeneous nations, multiple cultural communities exist with distinct values related to young children and their care. General cultural attitudes are related to specific parental child-rearing beliefs, or ethnotheories, and practices (Small, 1998). One of the most important values related to child care that transcends specific national norms is the emphasis placed on the independence or interdependence of infants with their caregivers (based on Triandis's 1995 distinction between individualist and collectivist cultures). Belief in the importance of infant-caregiver independence or interdependence affects many features of infant care and is influential even before a baby's birth. Korean mothers, for example, are explicitly instructed to view each prenatal event as an experience shared with the fetus, and they are encouraged to avoid unpleasant experiences that might affect the child or the mother-infant relationship (Yu, 1984). The interdependence fostered by cultural beliefs such as these significantly influences subsequent patterns of infant care in Korea and in other cultures.

The extent to which cultural values emphasize the independence or interdependence of infant and caregiver affects early socioemotional growth through its impact on infant care practices. In most families in the United States, for example, infants sleep in their own beds independently of their parents within the first few months after birth, and their parents are extremely concerned about the establishment of reliable sleeping patterns and report a large number of sleeping problems in their offspring (Morelli, Rogoff, Oppenheim, & Goldsmith, 1992). By contrast, Japanese, African, and Mayan infants sleep with their mothers until toddlerhood, and their sleeping patterns are determined by the sleeping rhythms of those around them and are less of a family disturbance

(Small, 1998). Infants who awaken are more easily and quickly comforted, fed, and returned to sleep (Harkness, 1980; Morelli et al., 1992). Likewise, not only does the constant carrying of infants by mothers of the !Kung hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari desert permit reliable contact and regular feeding, but also the baby's fusses receive an immediate response before they escalate, and soothing can occur more quickly (Barr, Bakeman, Konner, & Adamson, 1987; Hunziker & Barr, 1986). By contrast, the cries of infants in the United States often escalate because soothing is delayed by the physical distance between infant and mother or by other demands in a child-care setting. The close physical contact of sleeping and carrying reflects cultural values concerning infant-mother interdependence that reduces the incentives for infants to acquire skills for managing their distress independently (Pomerleau, Malcuit, & Sabatier, 1991).

A cultural emphasis on independence or interdependence also influences other aspects of mother-infant interaction, including feeding practices, verbal stimulation, and provision of play materials. In one observational study, Puerto Rican mothers were found to be more likely to restrain their infants, physically position them, and issue direct commands to them, each of which was consistent with a maternal emphasis on interdependence and the infant's need for guidance. By contrast, American mothers offered more suggestions to their offspring and praised infant behavior much more than Puerto Rican mothers did (Harwood, Scholmerich, & Schulze, 2000). In another study, Japanese mothers were observed to respond in a more animated fashion when the infant's attention was directed toward them, whereas mothers in the United States were more responsive when infants were looking at objects rather than at them (Bornstein, Tal, & Tamis-LeMonda, 1991; Bornstein, Toda, Azuma, Tamis-LeMonda, & Ogino, 1990). This difference is consistent with the close intimacy fostered by Japanese mothers with their offspring, in contrast to the greater emphasis on individualism and independence of mothers in the United States.

Cultural differences in normative patterns of social interaction are important not only because of how they affect early social and emotional responding, but also because they compel developmental scientists' attention to the appropriate assessment of early social interaction and social relationships. Researchers cannot assume that caregiving practices and infant behavior that are normative for middle-class families in the United States are standard worldwide, nor even within different cultural communities inside the United States. Thus, early socioemotional development must be viewed within the context of the specific cultural values and goals that guide child-rearing practices. However, many aspects of early socioemotional growth, such as forming close attachments to caregivers, are broadly observed in different cultural contexts and appear to be universal features of psychosocial development based on human evolutionary adaptation (van IJzendoorn & Sagi, 1999). An important challenge to students of socioemotional development, therefore, is how to study broadly generalizable processes of social and emotional growth while respecting cultural differences in how these processes are realized (see, e.g., Rothbaum, Weisz, Pott, Miyake, & Morelli, 2000).

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