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Assessing unpredictability in caregiver-child relationships: Insights from theoretical and empirical perspectives.


There has been significant interest and progress in understanding the role of caregiver unpredictability on brain maturation, cognitive and socioemotional development, and psychopathology. Theoretical consensus has emerged about the unique influence of unpredictability in shaping children's experience, distinct from other adverse exposures or features of stress exposure. Nonetheless, the field still lacks theoretical and empirical common ground due to difficulties in accurately conceptualizing and measuring unpredictability in the caregiver-child relationship. In this paper, we first provide an overview of the role of unpredictability in theories of caregiving and childhood adversity and present four issues that are currently under-discussed but are crucial to the field. Focusing on how moment-to-moment and day-to-day dynamics are at the heart of caregiver unpredictability, we review three approaches aiming to address some of these nuances: Environmental statistics, entropy, and dynamic systems. Lastly, we conclude with a broad summary and suggest future research directions. Systematic progress in this field can inform interventions and policies aiming to increase stability in the lives of children.

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