Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7203-7257

Year of Publication

2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Agriculture, Food and Environment

Department

Family Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Alexander T. Vazsonyi

Abstract

The present empirical work aims to discern the underlying mechanisms of purported developmental links among several key human characteristics including language skills, self-control, empathy, and psychopathic traits. Accordingly, three interrelated studies are carried out testing the longitudinal associations of various kinds (e.g., direct, indirect, bidirectional) among these constructs. All three studies are conceptually framed in consideration of the extant research and relevant theories. They employ the data set provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of Early Child Care and Youth Development Study of N = 1,364 children followed from infancy through middle adolescence.

Study 1 tested the longitudinal bidirectional associations between language development, measured by the Letter-Word Identification and Picture Vocabulary tests of the WJ-R (McGrew, 1993), and self-control, measured by the Self-Control of SRSS (Gresham & Elliot, 1990) parent- report, from age 4.5 to 10.5 years. The data were analyzed using an autoregressive cross-lagged panel model with latent variables. Findings provided limited empirical support for the proposed bidirectional effects, indicating that once initial correlation between the two constructs, as well as their temporal stability is accounted for, most directional paths become non-significant, in particular, from self-control to language. However, the paths from language development to self- control, ages 4.5 to 6.5 and 6.5 to 8.5 were statistically significant and positive, suggesting more salient directional association from language to self-control.

The goal of the Study 2 was twofold. It tested 1) whether there is a common factorial structure underlying empathy, psychopathy, and self-control, and 2) it tested the three main predictors, including positive parenting, easy temperament, and general intelligence, whether these all contribute uniquely to the development of empathy, psychopathic traits and self-control. Structural equation modeling and factor analysis techniques were used the test the research hypotheses. The findings revealed that despite considerable overlap at a construct level, there was a significant unique variance that remained unaccounted. They also demonstrated that all three variables shared one common developmental antecedent, namely positive parenting during infancy and early childhood. In addition, intelligence uniquely predicted empathy and psychopathic traits but not self-control, whereas temperament did not significantly predict any of the three dependent variables examined.

Study 3 examined the salience test the salience of the Eisenberg’s (2005) model of empathy development, according to which the ability for empathy stems from two main individual characteristics, temperamental regulation and emotionality. It also investigated the impact of early socialization experiences not only on adolescent empathy but also on its proposed predictors. Infancy socialization indicators included: maternal sensitivity, quality of home environment and secure attachment, assessed at 6-36 months by mother-reports and/or observational accounts. Effortful control indicators included: attentional focusing and inhibitory control; whereas negative emotionality included anger and sadness, all assessed at the age of 4.5 years. Empathy was assessed at the age of 15 by adolescent self-report measure. Findings indicated that childhood temperamental traits did not significantly predict adolescent empathy, nor their interactive effects were supported by the data. In contrast, the role of early socialization influences was evidenced by significant positive association, uniquely accounting for a considerable amount of variance explained in adolescent empathy.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2019.463

Available for download on Monday, December 20, 2021

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