Multilevel factors affecting early socioemotional development in humans

  • Joy Cui
  • Elisabeth J. Mistur
  • Christine Wei
  • Jennifer E. Lansford
  • Diane L. Putnick
  • Marc H. BornsteinEmail author
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. An evolutionary perspective on the development of primate sociality


Socioemotional climate in the family environment is critical to a child’s socioemotional development. This focused literature review examines some central dynamics of that relation, viz. how positive and negative parent-child interactions influence genetic, neurodevelopmental, affective, and behavioral adjustment in children across cultures. Our narrative review of the extant empirical research indicates that, first, socioemotional caregiving experienced in infancy contributes to the postnatal genome and development of the brain in that, for example, early parent-child interactions affect genetic expression and the integrity of white matter neural tracts involved in emotion regulation, social cognition, and behavioral adjustment and presumably do so in culturally common ways. Second, positive parenting (warmth and acceptance) favorably affects child socioemotional adjustment, whereas negative parenting (rejection and punishment) adversely affects child socioemotional adjustment, in specific and fairly consistent ways across cultures. Third, very negative parenting, specifically corporal punishment, anticipates poor child socioemotional behavioral adjustment across cultures. These dynamics are situated in broader caregiving contexts reflecting parent and child gender, parent-child relationship quality, and cultural normativeness. Overall, contemporary research emphasizes the importance of parent-child socioemotional dynamics and cultural interpretation for understanding long-term socioemotional development in human children.


Experience-based myelination Socioemotional development Corporal punishment Parental warmth Parental rejection 



We are grateful to Fedserica Amici and Anja Widdig for their invitation to the topical collection “An evolutionary perspective on the development of primate sociality.”

Funding information

This article was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH/NICHD, USA, and an International Research Fellowship in collaboration with the Centre for the Evaluation of Development Policies (EDePO) at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), London, UK, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement no. 695300-HKADeC-ERC-2015-AdG).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Child and Family ResearchEunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human DevelopmentBethesdaUSA
  2. 2.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Fiscal StudiesLondonUK

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