Parenting Styles and Dimensions

Table 4.1 provides an overview of the studies to be discussed in this section of the chapter. In most instances the samples for the research have consisted of predominantly White parents and children from the United States, Canada, or England; when this was not the case, Table 4.1 indicates the nature of the sample. The Child Measures column is limited to the theory-of-mind measures that were the main outcome measures of interest in all of the studies. In some instances other relevant child measures were included, and in these cases I consider the additional measures when the study is discussed.

A Few Preliminary Points

A first point is that all of the studies reviewed are correlational—that is, they measure but do not experimentally manipulate parenting practices and child outcomes. Because they are correlational, they cannot establish cause-and-effect relations with certainty. The usual assumption—which is the usual assumption in parenting research in general—is that significant correlations reflect the effects of parental practices on children’s development. It is possible, however, that the causal direction is the reverse—that it is children who are affecting their parents. Perhaps, for example, children with relatively advanced theory-of-mind skills elicit particular kinds of treatment from their parents. This is a possibility that is explicitly considered by several of the researchers whose work is reviewed here (Guajardo, Snyder, & Petersen, 2009; Pears & Moses, 2003; Ruffman et al., 1999). It is also possible that some third factor accounts for the parent-child correlations. One possibility under this heading is shared genes: Perhaps relatively intelligent parents favor particular parenting practices; these parents pass intelligence-enhancing genes on to their children, and these children therefore perform relatively well on cognitive measures, including theory of mind. If so, we would have an effect of parents—not, however, of parenting.

Table 3.2 summarized various ways to address the directionality and third- factor issues. The main possibilities in the former case are longitudinal and experimental studies. This literature contains three longitudinal studies (Rohrer, Cicchetti, Rogosch, Toth, & Maughan, 2011; Ruffman, Slade, Devitt, & Crowe, 2006; Symons & Clark, 2000); experimental studies have yet to appear. Statistical controls for third-factor alternatives (e.g., parent education level) do appear in a number of studies. The adoption design has not yet been used, however, and thus shared genes remain a possible explanation for parent-child relations.

A second issue concerns measurement of parental practices. All three of the general approaches to the measurement of parenting appear in the studies considered in this section: home observation, lab observation, and verbal report.

Table 4.1 Studies Relating Parenting Style or Parenting Dimensions to Theory of Mind




Child measures

Parenting measures

Cahill et al. (2007)

3-year-old twins

False belief, understanding of deception

Warmth and responsiveness (scored from home observations)

Cole &



  • 4- and
  • 5- year-olds

False belief, appearance- reality, facial management (re deception)

Socioeconomic (SES) stress, authoritative and authoritarian practices (self-report)

Farrant et al. (2012)

Australian 4- to 6-year-olds

False belief, diverse desires, diverse beliefs, emotional perspective taking

Maternal empathy, parenting encouraging of perspective-taking (self-report)

Guajardo et al. (2009)

3- to 5-year-olds

Wellman &

Liu battery, understanding of emotion

Stress; overreactive and lax parenting (self-report); praise, imitation, command, criticism (scored from lab observations)




3- to 6-year-olds in Head Start

Affective false belief

Response to misbehavior, coded as power assertion, love withdrawal, or induction (child report)

Hughes et al. (1999)

3-year-old twins (same sample as in Cahill et al., 2007)

False belief, understanding of deception

SES, warmth and negativity, positive and negative control (scored from home observations)

Hughes & Ensor (2006)

2-year- olds from disadvantaged families

Simple forms oftheory of mind (hiding game, pretense, mistaken beliefs)

Harsh parenting (scored from home and lab observations)


Table 4.1 Continued




Child measures

Parenting measures

Humfress et al. (2002)

  • 12- and
  • 13- year-olds

Strange Stories

Parenting quality (conflict/ negativity, warmth, support, monitoring/inductive control [child report])

Lewis et al. (2006)

Chinese 3- to 5-year-olds

False belief

Response to disciplinary situations (self-report), scored as how feel, general discussion, reprimand, ambiguous

Murray et al. (1999)

5-year-olds, some of whose mothers had suffered postnatal depression

False belief

Recent maternal depression, parental conflict (interview measure), sensitivity of maternal communication (scored from lab observations)

Olson et al. (2011)


False belief

Warm responsiveness and corporal punishment (self-report)

O'Reilly &

Australian 5- to

Wellman & Liu

Modified version of Vinden's




battery, affective false belief, second-order false belief


Pears &



3- to 5-year-olds

False belief, understanding of perception, desire, and emotion

Education, income, response to negative behaviors (selfreport), scored as power assertion, instruction, explanation, consequences

Rohrer et al. (2001)

3-year-olds, followed longitudinally to age 5

False belief

Maternal depression, maternal positivity and negativity during joint problem solving when the child was 3 (scored from lab observations)

Table 4.1 Continued




Child measures

Parenting measures

Ruffman et al. (1999)

3- to 5-year-olds

False belief

SES, response to disciplinary situations (self-report), scored as how feel, general discussion, reprimand, ambiguous

Ruffman et al. (2006)

3- year-olds, followed longitudinally to age 5

False belief, desire and emotion understanding

Mental state talk, aspects of parenting style: positive affect, negative affect, responsiveness, social skill, teaching, control (scored from lab observations)

Shahaeian et al. (2014)

Iranian 4- and 5-year-olds

Wellman and Liu scale, additional diverse desire and diverse belief tasks

Modified version of the Ruffman et al. (1999) questionnaire


& Clark (2000)

2-year-olds, followed longitudinally to age 5

False belief, including a caregiver- location form

Maternal emotional stress (self-report), maternal sensitivity when the child was 2 (scored from home observations)



Korean- American and Anglo- American 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds

False belief, affective false belief, appearance- reality

PAI—maternal attitudes re three dimensions: autonomygranting, strictness, attitude toward learning (self-report)

The majority of studies, however, have used verbal report, and in this respect they mirror the general parenting literature. The majority have also used a single approach to measurement, although a few reports do provide a convergence of methods within the same study (Guajardo et al. 2009; Hughes, Deater-Deckard, & Cutting, 1999; Hughes & Ensor, 2006; Murray, Woolgar, Briers, & Hipwell, 1999). Finally, it is rare, even in reports that talk about parenting styles, to find a full assessment and discussion of all four of the Baumrind styles. It is interesting, in this respect, to note that a recent article by Baumrind (2013, p. 12) refers to “definitional drift” in the conception and measurement of parenting styles. There is certainly some drift in the studies considered here.

As Table 4.1 shows, the preschool period has been by far the most common focus for research, and the false belief task has been by far the most common developmental outcome. As other chapters will show, the literature as a whole does include other age periods (although almost always younger rather than older) and a wider range of theory-of mind outcomes; the present studies, however, are limited on both dimensions. A further point is that in all instances the variations in false belief that are examined are variations in rate of development, which, as noted in Chapter 2, is the usual approach to individual differences in the theory-of-mind literature. Thus in most of the studies to be reviewed, relatively good theory of mind means relatively fast mastery of false belief.

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