Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
Nelson Darling
Boston University
Postal Code
Title of Symposium
List the Chair(s) and All Presenter Names and Email Addresses
Sarah Lynch ([email protected]) Nicholas J. Wagner ([email protected]) Laura Nelson Darling ([email protected]) Chair and presenter Steven J. Holochwost ([email protected]) Discussant
Topics to be Addressed:
Physiological Processes including hormonal modulation
Ages of Research Subjects
Details of Research Subjects
Symposium Proposal Text (type or paste from Word doc)
Adaptive self-regulation underlies the ability to engage in key social, cognitive, and behavioral activities of early childhood and beyond. Substantial empirical and theoretical research posits that the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) underpins critical aspects of self-regulation, attention, and social engagement. Incorporating the PNS in developmental research provides insight into the regulatory processes of young children, as well as its influence on socioemotional development. In this symposium, we characterize trajectories of PNS functioning across infancy and childhood and examine its impact on social behaviors in early childhood. First, Ms. Sarah Lynch will present results from a systematic review of extant literature and empirical data from two longitudinal studies to characterize change in PNS activity from infancy to age 8 years.  Next, Dr. Nicholas Wagner will explore the impact of parents’ PNS regulation on children’s socially inhibited behaviors as observed in classrooms. Finally, Ms. Laura Nelson Darling will demonstrate the importance of assessing PNS functioning “in-context” by presenting connections between observations of preschoolers’ socially competent behaviors and their PNS activity as assessed in classrooms across structured and unstructured tasks. Dr. Steven Holochwost, expert in PNS functioning and psychosocial development, will integrate findings from these innovative studies and discuss their implications for future research. CHARACTERIZING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM IN THE FIRST THREE YEARS OF LIFE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW AND EMPIRICAL EXAMINATION ACROSS TWO LONGITUDINAL SAMPLES Sarah Lynch, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States (Primary Presenter) Steven J. Holochwost, PhD, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, United States Veronica Cole, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, United States Cathi Propper, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Chapel Hill NC, United States Roger Mills-Koonce, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC, United States Nicholas J. Wagner, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States The capacity to self-regulate is a key milestone of early childhood development (Nigg, 2016). A complete definition of self-regulation includes the largely involuntary activity of neurophysiological systems including the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS; Blair & Raver, 2012). Through efferent fibers originating in the brain and spinal cord, the PNS innervates tissues and organs throughout the body, allowing moment-to-moment adjustments in metabolic output in response to the shifting environmental demands presented under conditions of homeostasis, conditions that encompass all situations that do not constitute an aversive challenge or threat (Porges, 1992). The current research comprises two complementary studies that seek to characterize the development of the PNS in very early childhood. In the first study, we present the results of a systematic review encompassing all studies that indexed the activity of the PNS among children between birth and 8 years of age by measuring heart rate variability associated with respiration, referred to as respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; Bornstein & Suess, 2000), which offers the purest assessment of parasympathetic activity (Lewis, Furman, McCool, & Porges, 2012). The results of this review suggest that across studies PNS activity, thus defined, appears to increase over the course of early childhood. In the second study we applied a latent growth curve analysis (LGCA) to characterize change in homeostatic PNS activity from infancy to toddlerhood within two diverse, longitudinal datasets. These analyses suggested a three-class solution in which most children exhibited steady increases in PNS activity over time.   LINKS BETWEEN PARENTS’ PARASYMPATHETIC REGULATION AND CHILDREN’S OBSERVED PLAY BEHAVIORS IN PRESCHOOL: THE MODERATING ROLE OF ANXIETY Nicholas J. Wagner, PhD, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States (Primary Presenter) [email protected] Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, PhD, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, United States Christina Danko, PhD, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, United States Kelly Smith, BA, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, United States Danielle Novick, MS, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, United States Lindsay Druskin, BA, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, United States Kenneth Rubin, PhD, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, United States Behavioral inhibition (i.e., fear to novelty) places young children at subsequent risk for emotion regulation difficulties and eventual anxiety disorders. Developmental models show that BI and its consequences are reinforced and exacerbated by children’s reciprocal interactions with their parents. Parents often perceive their children as highly vulnerable and enact overly protective and controlling behaviors. Although research supports the notion that a parent’s response to their child’s needs may depend, in part, on the degree to which their physiological regulation supports, rather than undermines, context-appropriate and synchronous responses, researchers have yet to examine the implications of parents’ parasympathetic regulation for the naturalistic play behaviors of children high on BI. Using baseline data from 151 parents and preschoolers (Mage = 53 months, 49% male) with high BI whose parents were enrolled in a randomized control trial intervention, the current study examines the associations between parents’ respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) while watching their children be exposed to a novel clown (e.g., social stressor), an index of parasympathetic regulation, and children’s reticent (e.g., onlooking, shy) play behaviors as observed in their preschool classrooms. Results from a saturated path model suggest that lower RSA during the exposure, controlling for pre-exposure levels, is associated with more observed reticence, but only for children who met criteria for a social anxiety disorder as determined by clinical interview (i.e., ADIS-5). Findings suggest that parents of anxious children may have reduced parasympathetic resources during times of challenge and stress, which exacerbates observed reticent behaviors for anxious children.   CONTEXT IS KEY: ASSESSING PRESCHOOLERS’ PARASYMPATHETIC FUNCTIONING AND SOCIAL BEHAVIORS IN CLASSROOM SETTINGS Laura Nelson Darling, MA, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States (Primary Presenter) [email protected] Steven J. Holochwost, PhD, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, United States Jennifer Coffman, PhD, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, United States Cathi B. Propper, PhD, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, United States Nicholas J. Wagner, PhD, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States Research shows that children’s social competence predicts their later academic and interpersonal success (e.g., Caprara et al., 2000), and protects against negative academic outcomes (Vitaro et al., 2005). Moreover, young children with lower social competence demonstrate poorer academic skills and social behaviors later on (Denham et al., 2012). The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) flexibly supports socially competent behaviors (Porges, 2007) and, together with children’s social behaviors, stand to elucidate patterns of (mal)adaptation. However, given the dynamic nature of the PNS, consideration of the context in which these data are collected is of critical importance. This study examines the influence of context-specific PNS regulation, assessed via respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), in predicting preschool children’s (N = 102) socially competent behavior within classroom settings. Our analyses utilize univariate and multivariate path models to examine whether baseline RSA and context-specific RSA (during unstructured vs. structured activities) predict children’s peer sociability in the classroom. Our results showed that only context-specific RSA predicted children’s context-specific peer sociability, controlling for baseline RSA. Specifically, Unstructured RSA was a significant predictor of peer sociability during unstructured activities, but not of peer sociability during structured activities. Correspondingly, Structured RSA was a significant predictor of peer sociability during structured activities, but not of peer sociability during unstructured activities. Children’s baseline RSA did not significantly predict their peer sociability in the overall classroom or in structured or unstructured activities. Results support prior work positioning the PNS as support system for social engagement and highlight the importance of assessing physiological regulation in contexts of interest.

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