Children with emotionally invested parents are more likely to succeed, according to a cross-sectional study conducted by Ulm University researchers. The study examined the quality of the emotional bond between 27 children aged four to six, as well as their cognitive control, which included resisting temptation, their ability to remember things, and whether they are shy or withdrawn.
Increasing children’s odds of success may appear daunting and impossible. Future achievement indicators appear to be largely determined by genes and the environment, which are beyond our control. But a compassionate and emotionally attentive environment is likely to be a long-term game-changer, according to this study.
Questionnaires, behavioural tasks, and electrophysiological measurements were used in the study. According to Dr. Henriette Schneider-Hassloff, the findings support developmental theories that propose that high emotional quality in the mother-child interaction (attachment security) promotes the child’s cognitive development.
The researchers analyzed the character of the emotional bond between mothers and children, also known as emotional availability (EA). Secondly, the executive functions of the children were assessed through a series of exercises.
Lastly, the study measured the neural responses of children tasked with inhibiting particular aspects of their behavior. This was accomplished through EEG (Electroencephalography) by measuring small voltage fluctuations in key brain regions.
“This study investigated the association between emotional interaction quality and the electrophysiological correlates of executive functions in preschool children for the first time,”
said Schneider-Hassloff. She added that the work sheds new light on the long-term importance of emotional nurturing.
Parents who recognize this importance and encourage their children’s independence while remaining emotionally available to give their children a greater chance of future success. According to the study, even in adversity, parents can create an emotional space that will have long-lasting and profound effects on the child’s future life skills.
There are some limitations to the study, the authors acknowledge. The sample included 4- to 6-year-old children, covering an age span during which considerable growth in executive function is observed.
The rather small sample size limited the detection of significant executive function effects over and above age, especially in tasks where performance was highly correlated with age. A replication study in a larger sample is desirable.
Additionally, little variation in educational degree was seen in the sample. It comprised predominantly highly educated parents, thus restricting the generalizability of the results.
Executive functions (EFs) – a set of cognitive control abilities – mediate resilience to stress and are associated with academic achievement and health throughout life. They are crucially linked to prefrontal cortex function as well as to other cortical and subcortical brain functions, which are maturing throughout childhood at different rates. Recent behavioral research suggested that children’s EFs were related to parenting quality and child attachment security, but the neural correlates of these associations are unknown. With this study we tested in 4- to 6-year-old healthy children (N = 27) how emotional availability (EA) of the mother-child-interaction was associated with behavioral and electrophysiological correlates of response inhibition (a core EF) in a Go/Nogo task, using event-related potential recordings (ERPs), and with behavioral performance in a Delay of Gratification (DoG) and a Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task (HTKS). Our data showed that the Go/Nogo task modulated children’s ERP components resembling adult electrophysiological indices of response inhibition – the N2 and P3/LPC ERPs-, but the children’s N2 and P3/LPC ERPs showed longer latencies. Higher maternal autonomy-fostering behavior and greater child responsiveness were significantly associated with smaller children’s N2 Go/Nogo effects at fronto-central and parietal sites and with greater Go/Nogo effects in the N2 time window at occipital sites, over and above children’s age and intelligence. Additionally, greater maternal sensitivity and a higher dyadic EA quality of the mother-child-interaction went along with greater occipital Go/Nogo effects in the N2 time window, but this effect clearly diminished when we controlled for children’s age and intelligence. Higher maternal autonomy-support was also positively associated with better HTKS performance, and higher dyadic EA quality went along with higher HTKS and DoG scores. However, no significant associations were found between EA variables and the behavioral response inhibition measures of the Go/Nogo task. Our results suggest that parenting qualities modulate the functionality of neural circuits involved in response inhibition, an important component of EFs. This finding, thus, indicates that parent–child interactions shape the neurocognitive development underlying EFs.
- Schneider-Hassloff H, Zwönitzer A, Künster AK, Mayer C, Ziegenhain U and Kiefer M (2016) Emotional Availability Modulates Electrophysiological Correlates of Executive Functions in Preschool Children. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 10:299. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00299
Last Updated on September 27, 2023