Features, Genetics, Science

How to Find a Parenting Effect

Like religion and politics, parenting can be an emotionally charged topic.  I argued previously that parenting did not represent a monolithic predictor of child development.1,2,3,4 More precisely, I stated that even if it was, most research on the subject would never allow you to know it because of a problem replete in the social sciences: genetic confounding.  The larger intent of my previous essay, in fact, was to address the perils of correlational research and encourage you to think carefully the next time you saw a headline proclaiming that X causes Y (e.g., bacon causes cancer). Parenting effects provided a suitable avenue for making that point given the proliferation of deeply confounded “parenting studies” which trade on unintelligible correlations between parenting styles and child outcomes. I want to take a slightly different approach this time around.  If parenting effects really existed, and you wanted to find them, where would you need to look?

You know already where not to look; a correlation between a parenting style and child behavior, for instance, simply does not provide enough information to conclude that the former causes the latter.  Many researchers, thankfully, understand this point on some level.1 In an ironic twist, actually, it has become fashionable of late to embrace genetic effects on personality, at least to some degree.  It seems every social scientist can rattle off the following mantra: “human development is a complex interplay between nature and nurture” or some version of that.1

Practically no one these days will fight you on the idea that genes and environments interact (GxE), and it is in these interactions, perhaps, that we can discover if parenting truly does impact children.1 As you’ll see, though, this simple notion (gene-environment interaction), belies some complexities that can complicate life quickly.  If we’re not careful, they will beguile our ability to truly find a parenting effect, assuming one exists to be found.

For now, at least, we’re all happily on board the train headed toward vindicating the existence of those elusive parenting effects.  No sooner than we start building some steam, though, do we find that an absent-minded farmer has let a herd of cattle escape and they’re now grazing on our track bound for knowledge.  That wandering herd in a methodological sense is something called gene-environment correlation (rGE). Genes and environments are not tossed together randomly.4 Einstein once famously quipped that: “God doesn’t play dice” [to loosely paraphrase the great genius].  The man with the enviable head of hair was commenting on the nature of universe, of course, not parenting and child development.  Had he been talking about parenting, I like to think that he might have added: “child rearing isn’t a roulette wheel.”  Bright parents often have bright children (to use a well worn example).  These bright individuals—owing to their own tastes and preferences—are likely to rear their children in homes full of technology, music, art, and culture.1 In short, the child’s genetic propensity to be smart is reflected back in their direction from the environment.  Behavioral geneticists refer to this as a passive gene-environment correlation (rGE) (parents provide both the genetics for high intelligence and the environment conducive to its successful manifestation).

But wait, there’s more.  As any parent knows, children evoke reactions from their caregivers.  Parenting is not generally a one-way street.1 The reactions that children elicit are based in part on their genetically informed temperaments (known as evocative gene-environment correlation).  Another reality for parents (one they may come to lament) is that as their children age they actively seek to construct for themselves an environment that aligns with their natural inclinations (active gene-environment correlation).  The lamentation likely comes when the child begins “creating” environments that run counter to mom and dad’s preferences (parents with children who have begun dating, I’m sure, are nodding along with me).  The reality of gene-environment correlation creates a methodological problem of some significance for researchers.  If you’re going to tease apart that interaction between genes and environment (GxE), then the existence of gene-environment correlation (rGE) must also be dealt with.  You must clear the cows from the track.

Now a true dissection of the problem can begin.  If you read my first discussion on this topic, then you will likely recall that twin studies cut trait variation in the population into three categories: heritability (capturing the influence of genes on human differences), shared environment (capturing the influence of families and parents, as well as other factors that make siblings similar), and non-shared environment (capturing all of the unique experiences that we have across our lives, including random events, that make siblings dissimilar).  The laws of behavior genetics3 suggest that genes and the non-shared environment play the largest role for most traits, but that’s a very general understanding (albeit an extremely well vindicated one).  What about rGE and GxE?  We know these complex processes are likely going on in the background.  What is the consequence of not testing for them in developmental research?  The behavioral genetics researcher Shaun Purcell has done the legwork for us (p.555)6 (note that A simply refers to heritability, C to the shared environment, and E to the non-shared environment):

Before considering the modelling of G × E it is worth reviewing the impact of G × E and rGE on standard twin models, in terms of biased parameter estimates. In short, interaction between and C acts like A; interaction between and E acts like E. Correlation between and acts like C; correlation between A and E acts like A.  

That first point is worth repeating, an interaction between a child’s genes and something in the shared environment (like parenting, perhaps) would show up as a genetic effect in the twin model.

Ah hah! Perhaps all those heritability estimates are masking interactions between genes and parental treatment?  Yes, perhaps. But let’s retrace our steps for a minute.  Remember that brilliant study by Polderman and colleagues7 (I mentioned in my previous essays).  In reviewing fifty years worth of twin research, the general pattern suggested a relatively small impact of the shared environment—perhaps the genetic effects are sucking up all of the important parenting interactions (like a big Hoover vacuum or something).  Don’t forget, though, that interactions between genes and the non-shared environment get lumped in as non-shared environmental effects.  So we might be incorrectly classifying some effects as genetic (when they are not), but we might also be wrongly classifying some effects as environmental, as well.  Then there is the issue of rGE and divvying up those effects.  It seems complicated, but don’t let this bog us down.  The long and short of it is that you need an approach capable of doing all of these different tasks (and in case you needed a reminder, classic correlational parenting studies fail on all fronts).

The psychologist Alexandra Burt, a few years back, conducted a review8 of behavioral genetic research in order to specifically examine the role of the shared environment on outcomes that cross my mind frequently as a criminologist: child and adolescent psychopathology.  Burt was interested in conduct disorder and attention deficit disorders (as well as other traits), which tend to increase the likelihood that one will someday become a criminal (my own field of expertise).  For those craving a more technical discussion of things, I highly recommend Burt’s paper.  It’s both thoughtful and thorough.  For those disdainful of journal articles, let me give you a brief sense of the findings.  Cognizant of the problems we touched on earlier (undetected rGE in particular), Burt compared the results of twin studies on the topic of early life psychopathology with the findings of adoption studies (nearly 500 of them in total).  Adoption studies are helpful because they sidestep certain issues that can artificially puff up a shared environmental effect (adopted children share zero genetic material with their parents, no genes are being passed along).  The results suggested that the shared environment explained somewhere south of 30 percent of the variance for most (but not all) of the outcomes examined in the study.  The effects were similar between both twin and adoption studies.

Let’s ponder this for a moment.  We’ve stumbled upon a significant shared environmental effect on psychological disorders in children, and it emerged in two types of behavioral genetic designs (twin and adoption studies).  What to make of this?  I think there are a few things you should consider.  First, the effect of shared environments was lower in magnitude than the effects of genes or the non-shared environment, something predicted by the three laws of behavior genetics years ago.  Second, we need to consider what it is about the “shared environment” that might actually matter.  The term “shared environment” captures a fair amount of “stuff.” Deciding what precisely in the shared environment is the causal force is an important task8 and there is no guarantee that the causal agent (or agents) will involve parenting styles (though it could; see Burt’s work for a more thorough discussion).

The psychologist Robert Krueger and his team provided another example9 of how to most effectively probe the issue of whether, and to what extent, genetic factors interlace with parenting styles (in the form of both rGE and GxE).  In this case, the researchers were interested in whether genetic effects on personality traits (like positive and negative emotionality) were altered based on the respondent’s perceived relationship with their parents.  The results seemed to suggest that genetic influences on personality styles either increased or decreased based in part on the nature of the parent-offspring relationship.  For instance, when perceived conflict between parents and respondents was high, genes had less of an impact on negative emotionality compared to when conflict was lower (genetic influences mattered more in that case); an interesting result to be sure.  But what did the research team make of their findings, as a whole (p.1515)?

 Clearly, these findings of shared environmental influence require replication before we make too much of them, but they do suggest a new vantage point for trying to understand how environments affect personality, made possible by the modeling advances portrayed in Figure 2 (the biometrical moderator model). The literature to date is not “wrong” in documenting the trivial impact of shared environments on personality in general. For most adolescents, in families with normative levels of conflict, personality does result from genetic factors (A) and environments that make people different from their family members (E; see table 2). Nevertheless, our understanding can be enhanced by examining adolescent personality in unusual family circumstancesin our case, unusually conflicted or unconflicted relationships with parentswhere the impact of the family-level, shared environment (C) on personality can be seen.

I concur with the authors, but this only serves to buttress a point I made initially.  In most cases (that is, on average), most of the differences in the population for personality traits are attributable to genetic differences, not parenting.  As the literature continues to build, though, we will continue to refine our understanding in this regard.

I’d like you to shift your focus a bit now in order to revisit the topic of identical twins.  In my last essay I focused on their stunning similarity, but in this case I want you to consider their differences, as they might provide us another avenue to sniff out those parenting effects.1 The psychologist Judith Rich Harris made the point that gene-environment interactions with the shared environment, while interesting, cannot really explain differences that emerge for identical twins raised together.1 Why not?  The answer is that they don’t differ from one another genetically (not in any appreciable manner).  If there was an interaction happening, it should impact both twins thereby making them more similar (interactions with the non-shared environment, of course, could create differences, but that’s a different topic).  Harris devotes an entire book to dealing with this and other issues related to human individuality (No Two Alike), and I strongly urge you to read it.  Nonetheless, if we seek to explain why identical twins turn out differently, then we must probe the issue in a slightly different way.  GxEs will not unlock all the mysteries after all (see chapter 3 in Harris for a superb discussion on the misleading allure of GxE in developmental research).1

Let’s imagine that mothers in the population tend to be more attached to some of their children than others (yes, I’m sure you love all of your children equally, just endure me on this point).  Would that really mean much for development?  Using a sample comprised only of identical twins, my colleague the biosocial criminologist Kevin Beaver investigated whether differences in types of parenting outcomes (maternal attachment, disengagement, involvement, and permissiveness) impacted delinquency in a national sample of American adolescents.10 He also tested whether these differences in parenting styles impacted levels of self-control (a primary predictor of antisocial and delinquent behavior).  The design of the study (using only identical twins) is important because by its very nature it overcomes so many of the problems inherent with classical parenting studies.  What were his findings?  Differences in the parental relationships of the participants had virtually no consistent impact on the behavior of the participants.

Along similar lines, I would point your attention to a study led by the psychologist Avshalom Caspi.11 Also analyzing a sample of identical twins, Caspi and his team produced evidence that maternally expressed emotions did predict behavioral differences in their offspring.  Two studies are not enough to sway our interpretation about anything too dramatically, and like all methods the monozygotic difference approach has limitations.  But it does illustrate the broader point of this essay; real parenting effects are only to be found in research approaches like those described above, strategies that are designed to sidestep the pitfalls of traditional social science research (I would also encourage you to see the early seminal papers of Robert Plomin and colleagues on this topic2,3 for more detail than I can provide).

Let’s switch gears entirely now and talk about the topic du jour in the social sciences: epigenetics.12,13 Epigenetics, it would seem, has become a buzzword for those social scientists who are gene-phobic (I think some of them see the double helix in their nightmares).13 To understand why, you must first understand what the science of epigenetics entails.  Though your genetic code is fixed, whether those genes are “turned on” or “off”, by necessity, changes over time.  Think of your genome as an orchestra playing the music from Star Wars (may the force be with you).  Different sections must be brought in at the appropriate time (no one wants to hear the tuba all the time, especially if the scene involves Darth Vader strolling on screen).  Your epigenome (the chemical code residing above your DNA) is a conductor, of sorts, cuing up the woodwinds, strings, and brass at just the right moments [i.e., turning on the correct genes when necessary] (I take no credit for the orchestra metaphor. It came to me while writing this and after having just seen the new Star Wars movie.  If you’re not a Star Wars fan, my apologies).

Here’s the part, though, that really gets the social scientists buzzing.  Epigenetic effects in humans can be influenced directly by environmental inputs.  In other words, the environment of organisms, humans included, can impact how genes are expressed.  See, the genome isn’t superior after all, they crow.  This is clearly relevant to parenting, right?  Epigenetics research has shown using rodents, for instance, that maternal care can alter gene expression in rat pups; a huge finding.12  Could something like this be at work in humans?  Sure it could. Environmental exposures could alter genetic expression, playing a key role perhaps in explaining the differences that emerge between siblings, even between identical twins.12 Consider that by the time two identical twins have reached adulthood, they have had a wealth of experiences that are uniquely their own, separate from their genetic clone (i.e., their sibling).  You can imagine the excitement and intrigue surrounding these findings (rightly so), and the embrace of epigenetics by the broader public has been swift.  Epigenetic findings continue to be written about in the media fairly frequently and it has even penetrated the discourse on some well informed parenting blogs.  Yet, as with any nascent science, we should take a deep breath and be patient.  The psychologist Terrie Moffitt and the criminologist Amber Beckley made this point in a recent paper (p.124):12

Many social scientists embrace the new epigenetics research because it has been billed as evidence that environment trumps genes. There is much excitement about this approach, which promises to capture a biological signature left behind by environmental adversity. However, our reading, and that of many biologically oriented scientists, is that epigenetics has been wildly oversold, particularly in the media. Many of our expert epigenetics research colleagues are deeply embarrassed by the warm, uncritical response their work has attracted from the social sciences. A biologist attendee at a July 2014 Washington, DC workshop on the social and behavioral implications of epigenetics gasped “The biologists there were horrified at the thought…we really don’t understand the basic biology well enough yet to do this!” A social scientist attendee agreed, “After the meeting I got the feeling the popular media has sold us a false bill of goods.” Here, we briefly summarize several cautions but refer interested readers to more in-depth discussions and sobering views by real experts in epigenetics (Heijmans and Mill, 2012; Juengst et al., 2014; Mill and Heijmans, 2013).

Does this mean that parenting has zero effect on the expression of genes in children?  No.  What it does mean is that we simply do not have a mature knowledge base regarding epigenetic effects on development.  More to the point, we are still accumulating evidence as to whether certain parenting strategies exert a causal influence on gene expression, which then exert a casual effect on child development that lasts for any appreciable amount of time.  Keep in mind also that to study epigenetics in humans is to do so absent the luxury of the experimental designs that can be used with non-human animals.  One doesn’t need to be a bioethicist to realize that experimentally switching children around in order to see how being with adopted mommy fiddles with gene expression would be just a bit unethical.  This inability to do experiments carriers with it a serious methodological point that only further pulls the rug from beneath us.  The team of Moffitt and Beckley note (p.125):12

To date, the most compelling reports of methylation effects have examined rodents (a key fact conveniently omitted in many popular media reports). In rodent models, all research participants are genetically identical, and everything in their environment is held constant across treatment and control groups except the experimental manipulation. This uniformity combined with experimental control over the severity of the treatment dose makes it relatively easy to detect effects in laboratory animals, compared with humans, who are characterized by staggering levels of both genetic and environmental diversity. As noted, ordinary observational studies cannot rule out selection effects, but the use of twins, especially longitudinal analyses in discordant monozygotic twins, can help to pin down and hold constant some of the complexity that will otherwise compromise translation of epigenetics research from rodent models to humans.

Be sure not to miss the final point made by Moffitt and Beckley.  If you want to appeal to epigenetics in order to study parenting, you had better use the appropriate research designs. Otherwise, you are going to wrangle with the same or similar confounds that I berated in my first essay on this topic.

By now you should have a better idea of where to look when looking for parenting effects.  My hope is that you can be a truly informed and discerning consumer of research on this topic moving forward, if you weren’t already.  Lastly, I wanted to speak to a broader reaction that I observed in the wake of our first discussion of parenting (both in correspondence and in chatting with folks face to face): the issue of “parental responsibility.” To write an essay arguing that parents don’t exert a lasting influence on their child’s personality seems needlessly provocative.  Think of the fallout if people believed the argument.  Without vigilant parental guidance, might children spiral into moral depravity, becoming increasingly narcissistic, materialistic, and even atheistic (Zeus forbid!)?  There is simply no good reason to suspect that this is true.  Yet, don’t let the limitations of parental socialization lure you into a lazy conclusion, such as one embracing the idea that parents are absolved of their responsibilities in child rearing.1

If a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for instance, a particular parenting style likely had nothing to do with it.  The reality of the disorder, however, means that the parent is faced with a range of choices.  They alone will have to decide how best to navigate the problem. They could simply do nothing, or they might embrace some bizarre notion that they can “discipline” the problem away, or that proper religious instruction will correct the child’s behavior.  None of these options represents a particularly appealing approach if the desire is to help the child.  Effective action on the part of the parents should by necessity involve something more nuanced (e.g., consulting a mental health professional), but the need for them to act remains unaltered. Parents still shoulder a huge burden; it just doesn’t include uploading a personality or moral sense into the heads of their children. Judith Rich Harris provided us the final word last time.  This time, Merle Haggard sends us off to think more on the issue of parenting:

“And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole, no one could steer me right but mama tried, mama tried. Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied. That leaves only me to blame, ‘cause mama tried.

 

Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. Follow him on Twitter: @fsnole1

 

References

  1. Harris, J. R. (2007). No two alike: Human nature and human individuality. New York, NY: Norton.
  1. Plomin, R., & Daniels, D. (1987). Why are children in the same family so different from one another? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 10, 1–60
  1. Turkheimer, E. (2000). Three laws of behavior genetics and what they mean. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(5), 160-164.
  1. Scarr, S., & McCartney, K. (1983). How people make their own environments: A theory of genotype→ environment effects. Child development, 424-435.
  1. Plomin, R., Asbury, K., & Dunn, J. (2001). Why are children from the same family so different? Nonshared environment a decade later. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 46, 225–233.
  1. Purcell, S. (2002). Variance components models for gene–environment interaction in twin analysis. Twin research, 5(06), 554-571.
  1. Polderman, T. J., Benyamin, B., de Leeuw, C. A., Sullivan, P. F., van Bochoven, A., Visscher, P. M., & Posthuma, D. (2015). Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies. Nature genetics, 47, 702–70.
  1. Burt, S. A. (2009). Rethinking environmental contributions to child and adolescent psychopathology: a meta-analysis of shared environmental influences. Psychological bulletin, 135(4), 608.
  1. Krueger, R. F., South, S., Johnson, W., & Iacono, W. (2008). The Heritability of Personality Is Not Always 50%: Gene‐Environment Interactions and Correlations     Between Personality and Parenting. Journal of personality, 76(6), 1485-1522.
  1. Beaver, K. M. (2008). Nonshared environmental influences on adolescent delinquent involvement and adult criminal behavior*. Criminology, 46(2), 341-369.
  1. Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Morgan, J., Rutter, M., Taylor, A., Arseneault, L., Tully, L., Jacobs, C., Kim-Cohen, J., and Polo-Tomas, M. (2004). Maternal expressed emotion predicts children’s antisocial behavior problems: Using monozygotic-twin differences to identify environmental effects on behavioral development. Developmental Psychology, 40, 149-161.
  1. Moffitt, Terrie E., and Amber Beckley. “Abandon twin research? Embrace epigenetic research? Premature advice for criminologists.” Criminology 53.1 (2015): 121-126.
  1. Wright, J. P., Barnes, J. C., Boutwell, B. B., Schwartz, J. A., Connolly, E. J., Nedelec, J. L., & Beaver, K. M. (2015). Mathematical proof is not minutiae and irreducible complexity is not a theory: a final response to Burt and Simons and a call to criminologists. Criminology, 53(1), 113-120.

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Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. His research interests include the biological evolution of human traits, genetic and environmental underpinnings of human violence, and general intelligence. His published articles have appeared in PLOS One, Behavior Genetics, Developmental Psychology, Journal of Psychiatric Research, Criminology, and Social Science and Medicine as well as others. He was also a coeditor of The Nurture versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality (Sage).

22 Comments

  1. Nice, slight quibble on the biology. Environmental stimuli are constantly altering the expression of genes in your body, i.e. if you need more of a particular nerotransmitter the gene for that protein gets turned on and you get more of it.

    The difference with epigenetics is that the state of the the genome around certain genes makes them more or less ready to act and these changes persist over a longer time.

    I do not think this fundamentally changes our understanding of nature/nurture as there are other mechanisms in developmental neurobiology that would be expected to make persistent changes to a person’s personality, and perhaps in a stronger and more direct way, such as synaptic pruning. Any meaningful experience makes some sort of physical change to the brain, i.e. an acquired phobia exists as faulty connections between cells somewhere. We just don’t understand them all.

    The only difference in epigenetics is that there have been papers claiming that these marks are passed down across generations, so the stress in your childhood can affect your children, even if you do not raise them. But these experiments are technically difficult so biologists are still fighting over that.

    I would also add that a significant confounder in studying this is noise from stochastic environmental effects. Identical twins often come out different sizes because of how they are situated in the womb, with one getting more nutrients. You can imagine those sorts of random events having all sorts of consequences in development, but there is really no practical way to observe them.

  2. The results suggested that the shared environment explained somewhere south of 30 percent of the variance for most (but not all) of the outcomes examined in the study. The effects were similar between both twin and adoption studies.

    We’ve stumbled upon a significant shared environmental effect on psychological disorders in children, and it emerged in two types of behavioral genetic designs (twin and adoption studies). What to make of this? I think there are a few things you should consider.

    Burt’s paper was one of the papers I reviewed in my post here:

    More Behavioral Genetic Facts

    About that “shared environment explained somewhere south of 30 percent of the variance,” it’s important to look at the informant. When peer or teacher ratings are used, the heritability skyrockets (to the .65 – .8 range) and the shared environment vanishes. This indicates that measurement error is behind the spurious shared environment finding.

    The psychologist Robert Krueger and his team provided another example9 of how to most effectively probe the issue of whether, and to what extent, genetic factors interlace with parenting styles (in the form of both rGE and GxE). In this case, the researchers were interested in whether genetic effects on personality traits (like positive and negative emotionality) were altered based on the respondent’s perceived relationship with their parents. The results seemed to suggest that genetic influences on personality styles either increased or decreased based in part on the nature of the parent-offspring relationship.

    Eh, not really. That very same dataset showed that at least half of the E term is just noise (i.e., it was unstable from one time point to the next). Furthermore, GxE studies are generally not kosher to perform, largely for the reason you state here. When environment is a function of genes, slicing and dicing the heritability according to heritable factors is bound to give nonsense results. That’s not even to touch the problem of measurement error.

    Does this mean that parenting has zero effect on the expression of genes in children? No. What it does mean is that we simply do not have a mature knowledge base regarding epigenetic effects on development.

    You have to be careful here, because this is where people often run into trouble in communicating this concept to the masses. It’s almost meaningless to ask whether parenting has an effect on children; stop feeding your child and see what happens. But what people really want to know is the extent that differences in parenting between different sets of parents have an effect how children turn out. In this case, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that that effect is exactly zero.

    • JayMan,

      your last paragraph interests me greatly. From the longer version, my comment to the OP below:

      my concern is this: that the ‘different parenting strategies’ are actually different in a meaningful way. I’ll be honest, I’m a bleeding heart about this, so what if I postulate that the operative difference between shared environment (parents) and non-shared, some portion of which is peers, is only the difference of peership, i.e. authority, structure, and discipline (or not) and then ask you: were there ‘parenting strategies’ that were tested that didn’t include those things?

      A few things about that:

      – first, probably not, I’d say “authority, structure, and discipline” are near universal strategies, that there aren’t common fundamentally different strategies as such, only parenting styles

      – second, there won’t be data for non-punishing (the non-application or the physical non-application of authority, discipline, and structure) families of separated twins, certainly not in numbers anyone would take seriously. This conversation wouldn’t be taking place if most people thought like me about my first point. Families that “don’t spank” are many, but families that haven’t punished at all are few and far between.

      – third, good news is, families like that (like mine) are starting to happen right now, maybe in a minute there will be enough to do a study, strategy vs strategy instead of styles vs styles.

      Whaddayathink?

      • and non-shared, some portion of which is peers

        Actually, the evidence is pointing away from the non-shared environment being peers. Most likely, it’s just noise, both measurement error and developmental variation.

        my concern is this: that the ‘different parenting strategies’ are actually different in a meaningful way. I’ll be honest, I’m a bleeding heart about this, so what if I postulate that the operative difference between shared environment (parents) and non-shared, some portion of which is peers, is only the difference of peership, i.e. authority, structure, and discipline (or not) and then ask you: were there ‘parenting strategies’ that were tested that didn’t include those things?

        Unless you’re postulation that there are no meaningful differences between families in how parents raise their kids, then if these things had an effect, they’d turn up in the shared environment. Yet they don’t.

        • sorry – non-shared environment is noise? No such thing as individual experience?

          do you know off the top of your head what different strategies they did compare? Were they fads, do they even continue today?

          Yes, I do kind of think the differences between parents are smaller than most of them think, yes, all the way to not meaningful. Why? Have I missed some parenting revolution where one of these “different” strategies has been shown to change anything in a meaningful way?

          We all have differences in our weird sets of rules, but we all have rules, and kids are not allowed to break them or make their own.

          are you really missing my point that everyone has rules and ways to ensure compliance and that differences within that paradigm are not fundamental?

        • yes, no meaningful differences, isn’t that the point? 5% influence? When they’re all at 5%, aren’t we in agreement, no difference? So I’m saying, the different parenting styles aren’t different enough to show different outcomes, and you’re saying, these were big differences, they should have changed outcomes if anything could. I’ll offer you a sort of test, even if it’s impossible to do: look at some kids from the small world of un-punished children and non-authoritarian parents, because just as social science went off sans genetics, so too has it gone off with a blind eye to authority and punishment. That’s 50% of the theoretical world, one side of life under authority and punishments or not, even if it’s .1% of real people. It should be a control for testing these “different parenting strategies,” shouldn’t it? Otherwise we’re floating?

  3. Farid says

    I have a question with respect to the argument that there is no effect (or no evidence of an effect) of “differences in parenting between different sets of parents”: do such studies control for the amount of time parents spend with the children? I find it easy to imagine that peers have a greater influence on the outcomes of children because children spend so much more time with their peers and thus grow to place greater value in peer evaluations etc. But what about when parents spend a great deal of time with the children? Will the parenting style then not have an influence?

    • an alternative theory to mine, but I’m guessing even more likely than mine to have been thought of and accounted for. The twin studies have been under incredible scrutiny and are holding up. You know how this data makes you feel, it’s the same for everybody, including everybody actually in the field. Folks like me, not a pro, coming sort of late to the conversation should relax and give it up, just find a way to interpret and accommodate it. That’s where I’m at right now, OK, very little influence, but why, and what does it mean to say it?

      It just occurred to me, the classic studies were a few decades back, maybe, adoptive families and whatnot, maybe they all had stay at home moms, at least.

    • like I’m trusting, from all the scrutiny, that in the adoption studies, the default trauma of all adopted children was somehow accounted for, that sort of thing . . .

      perhaps some pro or better read person can pipe in on this?

    • @Farid:

      I have a question with respect to the argument that there is no effect (or no evidence of an effect) of “differences in parenting between different sets of parents”: do such studies control for the amount of time parents spend with the children?

      You don’t have to, thanks to the very nature of this research. The shared environment captures anything in the shared experiences of children growing up together that makes them more similar, once you subtract genetic similarity. If anything parents were doing was having an effect on children, you’d see it here. That fact that you don’t means there can be no such effect.

  4. “ . . . given the proliferation of deeply confounded “parenting studies” which trade on unintelligible correlations between parenting styles and child outcomes.”
    – I’ve got more about that; I just haven’t posted it yet. I’ll email it to you, I want to know that all you pros know it already . . .

    “The results seemed to suggest that genetic influences on personality styles either increased or decreased based in part on the nature of the parent-offspring relationship. For instance, when perceived conflict between parents and respondents was high, genes had less of an impact on negative emotionality compared to when conflict was lower (genetic influences mattered more in that case) . . . “
    – Hmmm. I think I only hinted at it in all those blogs you’ve inspired that I’m writing, I wasn’t gonna commit, but if you got evidence, great. Parent vs peer is really authority vs peer, right? Easy guess for an NPLP (namby pamby liberal p@##y) that authority only gets minimal influence because we naturally only give it exactly as much as we need to and no more (to avoid retribution).

    “ . . . unconflicted relationships with parents–where the impact of the family-level, shared environment (C) on personality can be seen.”
    – Ah! I thought I was showing a horrible ignorance if I thought individual families might measure differently!
    – Now I’m sure my little family would.

    I think I told you, this is my hobby, all things punishment related, which goes immediately to child-rearing and nature/nurture things.
    “I concur with the authors, but this only serves to buttress a point I made initially. In most cases (that is, on average), most of the differences in the population for personality traits are attributable to genetic differences, not parenting.”
    – As you’ll see in the other thing, the “differences in parenting styles” may have been ill-conceived and defined

    Well, it’s Christmas! I’m for bed, Brian, I’ll finish reading and commenting another day, and send the other thing another day too.

    Always interesting!

    Happy Holidays

    Jeff

  5. more on parenting styles. No complaints about biology, but social science is reparable.

    “Many of our expert epigenetics research colleagues are deeply embarrassed by the warm, uncritical response their work has attracted from the social sciences.”
    – LOL

    “More to the point, we are still accumulating evidence as to whether certain parenting strategies exert a causal influence on gene expression, which then exert a casual effect on child development that lasts for any appreciable amount of time.”
    – First – social science guy here, even if I’m the first one.  ) this comment doesn’t address the gene expression. I’m critiquing the social science part, let alone what social scientists didn’t know about biology. I know by now that you must know my concern is this: that the ‘different parenting strategies’ are actually different in a meaningful way. I’ll be honest, I’m a bleeding heart about this, so what if I postulate that the operative difference between shared environment (parents) and non-shared, some portion of which is peers, is only the difference of peership, i.e. authority, structure, and discipline or not and then ask you: were there ‘parenting strategies’ that were tested that didn’t include those things? (sort of the definition of parenting to many folks. Note, that logically, ‘permissive’ means a structure of authority and rules, it’s not applicable without it.) And if not, what difference was assumed to be the more important change?
    – When I raised my kids, the parents around me thought every parent had their own style, but they all had those three things, so they all looked the same to me.

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  7. nobody wants to answer my questions and objections on these threads, it’s OK with me. I’ll just declare victory and retweet.

    😉

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