Category: Developmental

The Most Popular Teens Gain Status Through A Combination Of Aggression And Kindness

four teenage girls standing in front of concrete wall

By Emily Reynolds

For many teenagers, being popular is the ultimate form of success. But how to get there is not always so clear. Past research has identified two types of popular teens: the aggressive and the prosocial. Aggressively popular teens are more likely to be coercive or hostile whilst seeking popularity; the prosocial are co-operative and more likely to be stereotypically “nice”.

But in new research from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Montreal, published in Child Development, a third group has emerged: the “bistrategic” teen. This group is neither stereotypically aggressive nor stereotypically nice: instead, they walk the line, using aggression when needed but also being able to smooth things over with strategies usually seen in a more prosocial teen. And this seems to be such a successful tactic that these teens are the most popular of the lot.

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The Stereotype Of The Narcissistic Only Child Is Widespread — But It’s Wrong

Funny naughty child in princess crown standing with hands crossed on chest

By Emily Reynolds

Wherever you fall in a group of siblings, there are plenty of stereotypes about the sort of person you are or will turn out to be. Oldest of the bunch? You’ll be bossy, then. Youngest? Spoilt. Only child? Selfish and narcissistic, of course.

But this last stereotype, at least, can now be put to bed. That’s thanks to new research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science in which Michael Dufner from the University of Leipzig and colleagues found that the cliché, though widespread, is fundamentally inaccurate.

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Children With An Older Brother Have Poorer Language Skills Than Those With A Big Sister

Little boy and girl watching cartoons on mobile phone while relaxing on the carpet.

By Matthew Warren

The role of birth order in shaping who we are has been a matter of some debate in psychology. Recent research has cast doubt on the idea that an individual’s position in relation to their siblings influences their personality, for instance. But there may be other domains where birth order is still important: in particular, researchers have found that children with a greater number of older siblings seem to have worse verbal skills.

However, a new study published in Psychological Science has found that the situation is a bit more complicated than that.  Young children with an older sibling do indeed perform worse on language measures, the authors find — but only if that sibling is a brother.

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“Callous” Children No More Likely To Display Psychopathy As Adults – But May Be At Greater Risk Of Committing Violent Crime

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By Emma Young

Is it possible to spot the signs of future psychopathy in a child? Some researchers have argued that it is by looking at the child’s level of “interpersonal callousness” (IC), or the extent to which they are manipulative, dishonest, and show a lack of guilt, remorse or distress at being punished. Indeed, previous studies have found that children who rank high for IC are more likely to develop psychopathic features, as well as to commit violent offences in adolescence and adulthood. So, case closed?

Not according to a new study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. This work, led by Meagan Docherty and Jordan Beardslee at Arizona State University, suggests that other important risk factors for these negative outcomes in adolescence and adulthood haven’t been properly taken into account — and that when they are, the apparent link between childhood callousness and psychopathy in adulthood disappears.

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Teens Who Struggle To Differentiate Their Negative Emotions Are More Prone To Stress-Induced Depression

GettyImages-678525312.jpgBy Emma Young

The first step to dealing with a negative emotion is to identify it. If you’re feeling irritated, restless or guilty, the most effective way to start feeling better will be different in each case. The trouble is, if your sense of your own emotions is not that fine-grained – if you feel just “bad” or “upset” – you may struggle to identify the cause of your distress, making it tricky to self-regulate your emotions. 

Plenty of studies have linked a poor ability to differentiate between negative emotions (known as “low Negative Emotion Differentiation” or “low NED” for short) to depression. But this work has mostly been conducted at a single point in time (i.e. having a “cross-sectional” design), making it impossible to tell whether difficulties with emotional differentiation cause depression or vice versa. The research has also overwhelmingly involved adults, and yet it is adolescence that is most marked by low NED (even more than in early childhood) and depression. This mismatch in the literature motivated Lisa Starr at the University of Rochester and her colleagues to conduct a longitudinal study on adolescents, published recently in Emotion. They looked not only at teenagers’ NED and depressive symptoms over time, but also their experience of minor daily hassles and more serious stressful life events.  

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How A Mother’s Odour Helps Her Baby Develop A Sensitivity To Faces

GettyImages-926657584.jpgBy Emma Young

A newborn baby knows almost nothing about the world it comes into. To make sense of the onslaught of incoming sensory information, she or he must start to notice meaningful patterns and categorise them: that particular combination of visual data signifies a “face”, for example, while that noise is a “voice”. As the authors of a new paper in Developmental Science point out, “without this fundamental categorisation function, our nervous systems would be overwhelmed by the sheer diversity of our experience.” 

It had been thought that infants form these categories using information from just one sense, whichever is the most relevant. Following this account, the category of “faces” results from an accumulation of visual information about what faces look like. However, an intriguing new study, involving four-month-old infants and their mothers’ smelly t-shirts, suggests that babies’ early acquisition of the faces category is a truly multi-sensory process. 

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The “Recency Effect” Is Especially Pronounced In Children – An Important Finding For Researchers And Parents

GettyImages-1127508247.jpgBy guest blogger Bradley Busch

As father to an 18-month-old toddler, I would love to know exactly what my son is thinking. Along with many parents, one of the ways I try to find out is to ask him questions of the variety “Do you want X or Y?” But does his answer to this type of question actually reveal his preference or is it a more a reflection of a quirky cognitive bias that is more powerful in children than adults?

Two competing effects influence how adults respond to binary choices. The first is called “The Primary Effect” which describes the way that the first option we hear tends to stick in our minds. For example, one study found that adults are more likely to choose “heads” when asked if a coin toss is going to be “heads or tails”.  The second effect, which sometimes contrasts with the Primary Effect, is called “The Recency Effect”. This captures the way that the last thing we hear or experience can also have more weight in our memory (this is why popstars end their concerts on their best songs, so that everyone leaves thinking the whole gig was great). In adults, neither the Primary Effect or the Recency Effect is always the more pronounced, with evidence suggesting that one’s personality type, familiarity of the information, and how controversial the topic is, all play a mediating role.

Keen to test if the same is true in young children, or if one of the effects is more dominant, a team led by Emily Sumner conducted two experiments and published their findings in a recent paper in PLOS One fantastically titled “Cake or Broccoli: Recency Biases Children’s Verbal Responses”.

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Thinking About Their Multiple Identities Boosts Children’s Creativity And Problem-Solving Skills

GettyImages-478513620.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

It usually helps to “get a fresh pair of eyes” on a problem, especially from someone with a different perspective than your own. But what if you could find a variety of vantage points from within yourself? After all, each of us has multiple roles and identities in life. In a new paper in Developmental Science, a team led by Sarah Gaither at Duke University presents evidence that prompting children to think about their own multiple identities boosts their problem-solving skills and increases their flexible thinking.

“Someone can be a woman and White, a teacher and a parent, a girl and a friend,” the researchers write. “Although individuals may not automatically reflect on their multiple identities, here we propose that when they do, it may have positive consequences for their creative problem solving and flexible thinking.”

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Largest Observational Study Of Its Kind Finds Talkative Parents Have Kids With Better Cognitive Skills – But It’s Not Clear Why

GettyImages-644959968.jpgBy Matthew Warren

The idea that more talkative parents have children with superior language or cognitive skills has a long – and sometimes controversial – history. An influential study from the early 1990s claimed that American children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have poorer language development because they hear fewer words from their parents. But scientists have pointed out several issues with this early research – including that it involved researchers going into people’s homes to record them, potentially affecting the language they used. 

Since then, other researchers in the United States have researched families’ use of language in a less intrusive way – and found that any effects may be more subtle than originally claimed. Now, in what they say is the “largest naturalistic observation study of early life home environments to date”, scientists have brought these methods across the pond. A study of more than 100 London families, published recently in Developmental Psychology, has found that the quantity of language used by parents is related to children’s cognitive skills – but exactly why remains unclear.

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Researchers Have Investigated “Derailment” (Feeling Disconnected From Your Past Self) As A Cause And Consequence Of Depression

By Christian Jarrett

We move house, change jobs, begin new relationships, yet most of the time, most of us still experience a thread of inner continuity – a constant feeling of me-ness that transcends the various chapters of our lives. Indeed, there’s evidence that having a stable, constant sense of self and identity is important for psychological wellbeing. However, this thread can rupture, leading to an uncomfortable disconnect between who we feel we are today, and the person that we believe we used to be – a state that psychologists recently labelled “derailment”.

Now in a paper in Clinical Psychological Science a group led by Kaylin Ratner at Cornell University has explored the possibility that derailment both precipitates, and is a consequence of, depression. After all, people with depression often struggle with motivation, losing the will to pursue goals they previously held dear. They also frequently withdraw from their relationships and social roles. All of these changes could trigger sensations of derailment. Or perhaps derailment comes first, with the inner disorientation leaving one vulnerable to depression. Surprisingly these questions have been little studied before now. “We nominate derailment as a new feature of the depressive landscape and underscore the need for greater empirical and practical attention at the crossroads of mental health and human development,” Ratner and her team write.

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