Influences on Social Cognition in Children and Adolescents
Influences on Social Cognition in Children and Adolescents
Child development is influenced by many factors. Some of the most important factors that affect the development of a child include heredity, nutrition, parental affection, and culture. Cognition refers to a general processes regarding the principles of thinking in humans, whereas social cognition refers to the study of how people process and use social information, particularly how social information is encoded, stored, retrieved, and then applied by the person in social situations (Striano & Reid, 2006). Social cognition and social cognitive development are often studied by cognitive psychologist and social psychologists. The parallel between cognitive development and the development of social cognition certainly cannot be ignored. Cognition in children develops within the social context, but also most likely conforms to certain developmental patterns (Piaget, 1954). The primary influences of the development of social cognition in children and adolescents are parents, peers, and culture.
No discussion of cognitive development would be complete without at least a brief mention of John Piaget. Piaget's theory is a stage model of cognitive development including four major stages (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007): 1) the Sensorimotor stage (birth to two years of age); 2) the Preoperational stage (two to about seven years of age); 3) the Concrete Operational Stage (seven to about eleven years of age) and; 4) the Formal Operational stage (eleven years and beyond). Each of the stages is marked by a particular style of thinking and reasoning and child develops new cognitive abilities at each stage. While many of his ideas have undergone revision and Piaget may have actually underestimated the cognitive abilities of the children that he studied, his theory is important in that it set the stage for the general belief that there is a progression to the cognitive development of children that followed a specific pattern, is based on biological maturity and environmental interaction, and the process is not driven in behaviorist manner such that reinforcement and patterns of reinforcement alone do not determine learning and cognitive development. Piaget's ideas are important regarding the discussion of cognitive development and the development of social cognition in that this development is influenced by both the child's the environment, the stimuli that the child is exposed to, how behavior is reinforced, and the biological maturity of the child. The most important early influence on social cognitive development is the child's parents.
Parental Influences on Social Cognition
There are numerous parental influences to the development of social cognition in a child. For example, parental affection can substantially affect physical development in the young child and research with young children is discovering that even before age one children are developing the rudimentary necessary skills that will later be used in higher-order cognition such as social cognition (Striano & Reid, 2006). One of the classic studies in child development was documented by Rene Spitz (1945). Spitz studied infants a large orphanage where the nurse to child ratio was very high. As a result the infants received very little affection and attention outside of being fed. Nearly all of the infants were undersized, did not learn how to walk, and demonstrated severely disrupted physical development. Many of these infants died leading to Spitz coining the term "failure to thrive" as a description of how affection from a parent or caregiver is crucial to the development of a young child (Spitz, 1945). Parental attachment to the child is crucial to the socio-emotional development of the child (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007). For example, Harry Harlow raised infant monkeys with two surrogate mothers: one was made of wire in the other was made of wire covered with a blanket (Harlow, 1973). Even though the wire mother was the one to provide the infant monkey with nourishment whenever the infant was scared or not hungry clung to the surrogate mother that provided him "contact comfort." Moreover, the monkeys that were raised by the surrogates corrupt to be very emotionally disturbed demonstrating characteristics of those with severe psychiatric disorders. This study has important ramifications for human development and suggests that how one interprets the actions of others has its fundamental beginnings in one's relationship with one's primary caregivers as an infant.
Piaget's believed that successful passage through the early stages required that the child have a warm and affectionate parent that is able to help the child negotiate the types of cognitive problems that they saw that each stage (Piaget, 1954). Other theorists have elucidated concerning the contribution that warm, affectionate, attached is the parents have on the cognitive development of children (Bowlby, 1988). Studies also find, like Spitz, that children that are deprived of parental affection and an early age tend to have lower IQ scores difficulty reaching cognitive developmental milestones and poor academic achievement than those that have good parental attachments (Bowlby, 1988; McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007). IQ is an important variable in that has been demonstrated to be positively associated with the development of social cognition and cognitive abilities in general and children (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007).
The overall style of parenting utilized by parents is an amazing influence on the social cognitive development of the child. This is because children relate to their parents (or primary caregivers) more strongly than anyone else in their formative years. Thus, the way children understand how other people act, their motivations, their reasons for behavior, and whether or not the child can effectively interact with others is influenced by how the parents raise the child. Baumrind (1967) was able to identify four important parenting dimensions that were significant: parental disciplinary strategies, parental warmth and nurturance, communication styles between parents and children, and parental expectations of maturity and the amount of control (especially psychological control) they exerted over their children. Using these elements of parenting as her guideline Baumrind found that that the majority of parents she observed exhibited one of three parenting styles; follow-up research suggested the addition of an additional fourth parenting style (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). The four styles of parenting identified by these studies are:
Authoritarian parents have high demands of their children, are not responsive to their children, are focused on blind obedience using punishment, are status-oriented, and expect their rules and orders to be obeyed without explaining why.
Authoritative style parenting is like authoritarian parenting in that parents set up rules and guidelines and expect their children to follow them; however, they are responsive to their children's questions, nurturing, understanding, and forgiving instead of being punishing. The parents are assertive without being restrictive and intrusive, tend to use support and discussion as discipline instead of being punitive, and work towards children that are assertive and socially responsible, self-regulated, and cooperative.
Permissive (indulgent) parents place few demands on their children. They have relatively low expectations of maturity and of self-control in their children and rarely discipline them. These parents tend to be more nontraditional and indulgent in their approach, expect self-regulation from even young infants, and tend to avoid confrontation, are nurturing and communicative with the children, but this relationship is as more of a friend than of a parent.
Uninvolved (neglectful) parents make few or no demands, are low in responsiveness, and engage in little communication with children. These parents will satisfy the child's basic needs such as food and shelter, but they are generally indifferent otherwise and in more extreme cases can reject the child or neglect the child's needs.
Parental style has been demonstrated to be a significant predictor of child adjustment and child well-being in the areas of academic performance, social competence, psychosocial development, and with problem behaviors (Hoseini, Ahmadian, & Ravanbakhsh, 2008). Findings from interviews with parents, parental observations, and child self-reports, have consistently demonstrated that children and adolescents with authoritative parents are rated by objective measures completed by others and also rate themselves as more socially and instrumentally capable (e.g., academic performance) than children and adolescents who come from non-authoritative style parents (Baumrind, 1991; Miller, Cowan, Cowan, & Hetherington, 1993; Shucksmith, Hendry, & Glendinning, 1995; Weiss & Schwarz, 1996). Of the four parenting styles it has been found that children and adolescents whose parents are uninvolved perform relatively poorer across all domains (social, psychological, and behavioral) than children and adolescents from the other three styles (Kiernan & Huerta, 2008; Lamborn, Mants, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991; Steinberg, Blatt-Eisengart, & Cauffman, 2006. As a rule, parental responsiveness appears to predict levels of social competence and the child's overall psychosocial functioning, whereas demandingness is predictive of instrumental competency and behavioral control (i.e., deviance; Steinberg, Blatt-Eisengart, & Cauffman, 2006). For example findings demonstrate that children and adolescents reared in authoritarian families are apt to perform reasonably well in school and not exhibit problem behaviors, but they demonstrated relatively poorer social skills, lower levels of self-esteem, and have higher levels of depression (Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Maccoby, 1992; Steinberg, Blatt-Eisengart, & Cauffman, 2006). Those from indulgent families are more apt to exhibit problem…