Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenting Style and Adolescent Externalizing Behaviors: The Moderating Role of Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenting Style and Adolescent Externalizing Behaviors: The Moderating Role of Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia

Article excerpt

Recent theoretical and empirical work suggests that children who are more sensitive to the environment will thrive in supportive environments but will struggle in adverse ones. Conversely, children who are less sensitive to the environment do not benefit as much from supportive environments but also do not struggle as much in aversive environments (Ellis & Boyce, 2011; Ellis, Boyce, Belsky, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & Van IJzendoorn, 2011). Some have used the "orchid" and "dandelion" metaphor to describe this (Boyce & Ellis, 2005); that is, "orchid" children (i.e., sensitive) flourish in highly enriching conditions but struggle in adverse conditions, whereas "dandelion" children (i.e., less sensitive) tend to flourish under a variety of conditions.

This phenomenon is often referred to as differential susceptibility to the environment (DSE; Ellis, Boyce, et al., 2011). Empirical support for this can been found across a variety of indicators of child sensitivity (e.g., temperament, genetic type, neurophysiologic functioning) as well a variety of measures of environmental support and stress (e.g., levels of marital conflict, positive and negative parenting, life stresses; Bakermans-Kranenburg & van IJzendoorn, 2011; Eisenberg et al., 2012; Obradovic', Bush, Stamperdahl, Adler, & Boyce, 2010). However, within this growing research area no studies have yet examined whether DSE also applies to the basic parenting dimensions of authoritative and authoritarian parenting. Although some studies have examined DSE hypotheses with other, similar, parenting constructs (Mesman et al., 2009; Morris et al., 2002; Simons et al., 2013), the conceptual framework introduced by Baumrind (1966) has yet to be explicitly studied with DSE propositions (for incidental connections, see Ellis, Shirtcliff, Boyce, Deardorff, & Essex, 2011, and Morris, Cui, & Steinberg, 2013). This is unfortunate, as Baumrind's framework is "widely recognized as the leading typological approach to parenting" (Criss & Larzelere, 2013, p. 5) and frequently is used in the family and parenting literatures. By explicitly linking the DSE and parenting styles, both areas will have additional conceptual frameworks to draw on in building models of how parenting influences child development.

In the current study we investigated whether the supportive environment of authoritative parenting benefited high-sensitivity children more than their low-sensitivity counterparts. We further examined whether the high-sensitivity children struggled more under the aversive, authoritarian parenting style. Within this we also considered whether the gender of the child and parent moderates these associations; that is, we examined whether the influence of a child's sensitivity depends partly on whether the child is male or female and whether the parent is the mother or the father.

As with several other DSE studies, parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity (both baseline and reactivity levels) was used as an index of sensitivity (Belsky & Pluess, 2009; Kennedy, Rubin, Hastings, & Maisel, 2004; Obradovic' et al., 2010). PNS activity is ideal for indexing sensitivity because it has a substantial theoretical base regarding its role in human development (Porges, 1995, 2011). Child externalizing behaviors were used as the index of well-being given that literatures on both authoritative/authoritarian styles and DSE (including those using PNS activity as the index of susceptibility) have had a strong focus on this outcome. However, as of yet no research has combined the parenting styles literature with the DSE literature in examining externalizing behaviors.


Externalizing behaviors are defined as "overt behaviors that have a negative effect on the external environment" and can include behaviors that are disruptive, hyperactive/impulsive, and aggressive (White & Renk, 2012). A wealth of literature has examined numerous correlates of externalizing behaviors (e. …

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