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Parent-Child Behavioral Synchrony and Child Cognitive Flexibility in African American Children

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Parent-child behavioral synchrony can be described as effective collaboration through mutual cooperation and understanding. As a parent-child dyad works together to solve a problem, the parent models and/or directly instructs the child how to assess obstacles, find ways around them, and persevere in the face of challenges. The synchronous interaction provides an environment in which the child can practice problem-solving and hone self-regulatory skills (e.g., Davis, Bilms, & Suveg, 2017). As such, parent-child synchrony may foster children’s ability to cognitively adapt, or interpret information in different ways and move on with a new strategy when an old strategy isn’t working. However, date there are no studies examining how synchrony is associated with cognitive adaptability/flexibility, and in fact relatively few studies of synchrony beyond infancy. Moreover, we know even less about how these processes work in African American families and what factors - such as child gender - may be important to these links.
Participants were drawn from a larger mixed-method study. Eighty-eight children, ages 5-12 (M=8.72, SD=2.06), and their primary caregivers (PCs; 88.6% mothers, 4.55% fathers, 4.55% grandmothers, and 2.3% other), were recruited from high poverty, urban zip codes of a mid-size southeastern city. Caregivers identified children as Black or African American and as girls (49%) and boys (51%). Children and their PCs participated in a cooperative task in which they were given an etch-a-sketch toy and asked to recreate a series of drawings while each operating only one knob (Stevenson-Hinde & Shouldice, 1995). Videotaped interactions were later rated along several global dimensions, including the five-point parent-child behavioral synchrony scale (Suveg, Shaffer, & Davis, 2016) used for this study. To assess cognitive flexibility, children completed the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) task, part of the NIH Toolbox, via ipad (NIH TB, 2013; McDonald, 2014); the DCCS yields an overall score based on reaction time and accuracy (Zelazo et al., 2013).
To examine whether parent-child synchrony was associated with children’s cognitive flexibility, we tested a regression model via PROCESS (Hayes, 2012). However, because we are in the process of completing the etch-a-sketch coding, our analyses are preliminary and based on 43 dyads. The overall model was significant [F(4, 38)=6.75, p=.001] as was the interaction term (β= -14.56, p=.02). Examination of the conditional effects of synchrony on cognitive adaptability revealed that the association was significant for boys (p=.01) but not for girls (p=.35): boys whose interactions with caregivers were rated as more synchronous had higher cognitive flexibility scores. It may be that the parent-child mutual problem-solving context teaches children about cooperation, and boys may be especially subjected - or attuned - to messages about cooperation and negotiation as part of racial socialization. Further analyses and discussion will focus on verifying findings, extending them to examine other markers of child flexible adaptation (e.g., shift and persist; Chen et al.), and considering findings with regard to literature on socialization goals of parents of African American and Black children.

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