Previous research suggests that child behavioral phenotypes such as behavioral inhibition and aspects of parental control behavior may be shaped by culturally-informed socialization goals. Specifically, in accord with collectivistic values for interpersonal harmony and self-discipline, East Asian parents tend to support children's behavioral inhibition (BI; Chen & French, 2008) and utilize more parental control strategies such as encouragement of moderate emotional expressivity and restrictiveness (P. Wu et al., 2002). In contrast, parents from Western contexts tend to view BI as an indicator of anxiety (Rosenbaum et al., 1993; Schwartz, Snidman, & Kagan, 1999; Turner, Beidel, & Wolff, 1996) and avoid using parental control methods for fear of intruding on a child's autonomy (e.g., Chao & Tseng, 2002).
Thus, child behavioral inhibition may be associated with other child dispositions such as cognitive control and negative affectivity in distinct ways depending on the cultural context. Likewise, parental control may have different motivational determinants depending on cultural context. In particular, the role of possible evocative effects of child developmental factors such as behavioral difficulties, self-regulation, and cognitive control should be understood within cultural context. In order to better understand the nature of cultural differences in parental control, it is useful to examine a population in which developmental challenges may shape parent orientation toward control. Thus, while Paper 1 focuses on cultural differences in typically developing children and their parents, Paper 2 examines how parenting may shift to non-normative cultural practices in response to more challenging child behaviors as displayed by internationally adopted children.
In Paper 1 we examined whether BI and parental control were differentially related to children's temperament in a sample of 45 Asian American (AA) and European American (EA) preschoolers. Results indicated that AA parents endorsed more parental control (restrictiveness, encouragement of modesty) than EA parents. However, there were no ethnic differences in BI, cognitive control, or negative affectivity. Furthermore, analyses revealed that for AA families, BI was positively correlated with a measure of cognitive control; however, this association was not significant for EA children. This finding is consistent with the notion that BI is a heterogeneous phenotype in which AA children may be intentionally utilizing their cognitive control abilities to display withdrawal from novel situations (Xu et al., 2007). In addition, among AA children, there was no significant relationship between parental control and cognitive control, whereas this relationship was negative for EA families. This suggests that while parental control may be normative in AA families and not closely tied to children's cognitive control, there may be a different process in EA families. While the direction of influence is not clear, it may be that when EA children struggle with cognitive control, EA parents move outside of their culturally normative approach and utilize more parental control.
In Paper 2 we continued to explore evocative models of development in a sample of 64 preschoolers. We examined the interaction of parental ethnicity (EA, AA) and adoption status (adopted, nonadopted) on parental control and the explanatory effects of child factors (behavioral inhibition, anxiety, and cognitive control). Results indicated that adopted children displayed higher behavioral inhibition and lower parent reported cognitive control. As predicted, cultural differences in parental control emerged among the parents who did not adopt, but there was cultural similarity among the parents who adopted. Furthermore, we found that variation in behavioral inhibition and cognitive control partially explained adoption status by ethnicity interaction effects on parental control.
Taken together, these findings help elucidate the complicated reciprocal influences that flow between a child, their parents, and the larger culture.