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Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB)

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Social and Emotional Development/Child and Family Processes

The Program in Social and Emotional Development/Child and Family Processes supports research and research training relevant to normative social, emotional, and personality development in children from the newborn period through adolescence. Within this context, investigations of sociocultural, familial, individual, and biological influences on social and emotional development are also of interest.  The Program also supports studies of child developmental and family processes in high-risk settings (e.g., violent or abusive environments, child protective environments, juvenile justice environments) or in family environments where stressors such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, father absence, military family structure, deployment and combat-related trauma, or parental depression are present. In addition, the Program supports studies that examine protective factors that mitigate the risks of poor outcomes including parenting, social and cultural support mechanisms, and biological influences that shape development and developmental outcomes.

Social Development. Interest areas include interpersonal processes, forming and maintaining relationships (including parent–child, caregiver, peer, friend, and sibling), attachment models, and moral development. Also encouraged are studies of social competence, social withdrawal, social role formation and maintenance, and asocial and prosocial behavior. The Program encourages translational research to understand the uses of media and empirical research that addresses the psychological, social, and behavioral effects of media.

Emotional Development. The Program supports basic and translational research on the processes and mechanisms involved in the experience, expression, and regulation of emotion. Such research can shed light on whether child-by-environment models are effective guides for investigating processes that promote psychosocial adjustment. Studies of personality, temperament, and motivation and the relations among these domains are of interest, as are self-processes (self-esteem, self-evaluation, self-concept, self-control, self-efficacy, and social identity.

Child and Family Processes. The Program supports studies of child developmental and family processes in high-risk settings (e.g., violent or abusive environments, child protective environments, juvenile justice environments) or in family environments where stressors such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, father absence, or parental depression are present. In addition, the Program supports studies that examine protective factors that mitigate the risks of poor outcomes including parenting, social and cultural support mechanisms, and biological influences that shape development and developmental outcomes.

Child Maltreatment is one focus of the program, including studies of the antecedents and consequences of child abuse and neglect as well as psychosocial and psychobiological factors that shed light on the mechanisms by which child abuse and neglect result in harmful effects. In addition, the Program aims to identify factors that help children cope with abuse and neglect and to develop theory-driven prevention and intervention strategies that reduce the risk for maltreatment and ameliorate its effects on development.

Studies of violence and childhood exposure to violence are also a focus of the program.  Supported research addresses the public health, justice, social services, and educational problems associated with childhood and adolescent exposure to violence. Studies examining the trajectories of social development that may lead to antisocial behavior, conduct problems and aggression are encouraged. The Program aims to develop new knowledge about the definition, identification, epidemiology, prevention, etiology, early intervention, and mechanisms of violence and violence exposure and their long-term impact on development. Research topics of interest include:

  • Long-term psychological sequelae of childhood exposure to various forms of violence;
  • Development of aggressive and violent behavior in childhood and adolescence (including individual, peer, family, neighborhood, and sociocultural influences);
  • Effects of domestic, intimate partner, school bullying, teen dating, or community violence on individual development during infancy, childhood, or adolescence;
  • Factors within family, social, neighborhood, and school contexts that mitigate the consequences of violence on the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of children;

​​​​Child Maltreatment. Areas of focus within the Program include antecedents and long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect as well as psychosocial and psychobiological factors that shed light on the mechanisms by which child abuse and neglect result in harmful effects. In addition, the Program aims to identify factors that help children cope with abuse and neglect and to develop theory-driven prevention and intervention strategies that reduce the risk for maltreatment and ameliorate its effects on development.

Violence and Childhood Exposure to Violence. The Program aims to develop new knowledge about the definition, identification, epidemiology, prevention, etiology, early intervention, and mechanisms of violence and violence exposure and their impact on development. Studies examining the trajectories of social development that may lead to antisocial behavior, conduct problems and aggression are encouraged. Research topics of interest include:

  • Long-term psychological sequelae of childhood exposure to various forms of violence;
  • Development of aggressive and violent behavior in childhood and adolescence (including individual, peer, family, neighborhood, and sociocultural influences);
  • Effects of domestic, intimate partner, school bullying, teen dating, or community violence on individual development during infancy, childhood, or adolescence;
  • Factors within family, social, neighborhood, and school contexts that mitigate the consequences of violence on the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of children;
  • The influence of stereotyped ethnic identities and group affiliation on violent behavior and long-term developmental outcomes.

Human-Animal Interaction (HAI). HAI Research—defined as studies of the association between pet ownership/caregiving and physical and mental health, as well as the use of animals in both physical and psychological therapeutic treatments—is a recent addition to the CDBB's portfolio, although the topic itself is actually several decades old. In 1987, the NIH hosted a Consensus Development Conference titled, “The Health Benefits of Pets;” however, little robust scientific research currently exists to reinforce or deepen understanding of the true nature of HAI’s impacts—positive and/or negative.

To encourage HAI Research, the NICHD’s CDBB entered into a formal public-private partnership with WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition, a divis​ion of Mars, Inc., in support of a new competitive research grant program. Through this program, the NICHD aims to increase understanding of the impact of animals on the lives of children, specifically exploring the:

  • Impact of HAI on typical and atypical development and health;
  • Involvement of animals in both physical and psychological therapeutic treatments; and
  • Effects of animals on public health, including the cost effectiveness of involving animals in reducing and preventing disease.

To learn more about NICHD efforts related to HAI, select a link below:

Layla EspositoProgram Director: Layla Esposito

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Last Updated Date: 01/29/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 01/29/2014

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