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Caregiver perceptions of child development in rural Madagascar: a cross-sectional study

  • Author(s): Chung, Esther O
  • Fernald, Lia C. H
  • Galasso, Emanuela
  • Ratsifandrihamanana, Lisy
  • Weber, Ann M
  • et al.

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Human capital (the knowledge, skills, and health that accumulate over life) can be optimized by investments in early childhood to promote cognitive and language development. Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in the promotion and support of cognitive development in their children. Thus, understanding caregiver perceptions of a child’s capabilities and attributes, including intelligence, may enhance investments early in life. To explore this question, we asked caregivers to rank their child’s intelligence in comparison with other children in the community, and compared this ranking with children’s scores on an assessment of developmental abilities across multiple domains.


Our study examined cross-sectional data of 3361 children aged 16–42 months in rural Madagascar. Child intelligence, as perceived by their caregiver, was captured using a ladder ranking scale based on the MacArthur Scale for Subjective Social Status. Children’s developmental abilities were assessed using scores from the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Inventory (ASQ-I), which measures cognitive, language, and socio-emotional development. Ranked percentiles of the ASQ-I were generated within communities and across the whole sample. We created categories of under-estimation, matched, and over-estimation by taking the differences in rankings between caregiver-perceived child intelligence and ASQ-I. Child nutritional status, caregiver belief of their influence on child intelligence, and sociodemographic factors were examined as potential correlates of discordance between the measures using multinomial logistic regressions.


We found caregiver perceptions of intelligence in Madagascar did not align consistently with the ASQ-I, with approximately 8% of caregivers under-estimating and almost 50% over-estimating their children’s developmental abilities. Child nutritional status, caregiver belief of their influence on child intelligence, caregiver education, and wealth were associated with under- or over-estimation of children’s developmental abilities.


Our findings suggest parents may not always have an accurate perception of their child’s intelligence or abilities compared with other children. The results are consistent with the limited literature on parental perceptions of child nutrition, which documents a discordance between caregiver perceptions and objective measures. Further research is needed to understand the common cues caregivers that use to identify child development milestones and how these may differ from researcher-observed measures in low-income settings.

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