When it comes to kids, the argument between nature versus nurture is always taking place. And when it comes to how sociable kids are, people often like to think it all depends on the nature of that child. But, a lot of that may have something to do with the parents. According to a new study, harsh parenting may make kids antisocial.
In the past, parenting styles have been linked to other behavioral shifts in children, which makes sense. In 2016, researchers documented the influence parenting stress may have on child behavioral problems. And also in 2016, a study demonstrated the impact parents have on the development of children's emotional development, as documented by experts at Vanderbilt University. Parenting may often be thought of in terms of changing diapers and covering the basics but, as the experts at Vanderbilt noted, it goes far beyond.
Callous-unemotional (CU) traits in children are a phenomenon that researchers are beginning to pay more attention to. Those traits include limited empathy and lack of guilt, as outlined by the Association for Psychological Science. One of the biggest questions in examining callous-unemotional traits is determining whether these traits are due solely to genetic makeup or the environment a child finds themselves in.
Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers' main objective during during the study was to "determine whether parental harshness and parental warmth were related to children’s aggression or CU traits when accounting for genetically-mediated effects."
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and Michigan State University worked with 227 identical twin pairs, or 454 children in total, according to Science Daily. For the study, researchers worked by analyzing the small differences in parenting that each twin experienced. By doing so, they would be able to determine whether these differences predicted the likelihood of antisocial behaviors emerging.
The children participating in the study were between 6 to 11 years old, as outlined by Science Daily. Parents completed 50-item questionnaires about the environment at home, which including determining harshness and warmth levels of parents by having them rate 24 statements, according to Science Daily.
The results were pretty interesting. According to the study's abstract, differences in parental harshness were related to differences in aggression and CU traits. The study's abstract noted "differences in parental warmth were uniquely related to differences in CU traits, such that the twin receiving warmer parenting evidenced lower CU traits."
Rebecca Waller, an assistant professor in Penn's Department of Psychology, said, according to Science Daily:
"Some of the early work on callous-unemotional traits focused on their biological bases, like genetics and the brain, making the argument that these traits develop regardless of what is happening in a child's environment, that parenting doesn't matter. We felt there must be something we could change in the environment that might prevent a susceptible child from going down the pathway to more severe antisocial behavior."
This study doesn't rule out that genetic factors may have an influence. But, it does help further highlight the ways in which home environments impact children.