17th Annual Symposium on Family Issues - Biosocial Research Contributions to Understanding Family Processes and Problems

Date 10/08/09 to 10/09/09
Location Nittany Lion Inn, Penn State
Description

Conceptual shifts and technological breakthroughs have placed new emphasis on the importance of combining nature and nurture to understand family processes and problems. The link between biology and behavior is no longer regarded as a simple, unidirectional, cause and effect process. Today's researchers emphasize bi-directional relations between physiological processes and behavior, processes that operate in the context of previous experience and the demands of a multi-layered ecology. Biological factors mediate and moderate behavioral adaptation to a range of environmental challenges. At the same time, environmental challenges and behavioral responses affect biological processes. Family relationships are at the intersection of many biological and environmental influences.

The goal of this symposium is to stimulate conversation among scholars who construct and use biosocial models, as well as among those who want to know more about biosocial processes. Researchers interested in both biological and social/environmental influences on behavior, health, and development will be represented, including researchers whose work emphasizes behavioral endocrinology, behavior genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, sociology, demography, anthropology, economics, and psychology. Symposium presenters will consider physiological and social environmental influences on parenting and early childhood development, followed by adolescent adjustment, and family formation. Finally, factors that influence how families adapt to social inequalities will be examined.

How do physiological and social environmental factors within the family influence parenting and early childhood behavior and development?
Although all phases of development are important, physiologically-linked parenting behavior and the family context after birth have immense immediate and long-term consequences for child development. Eye contact, touching, holding, feeding, talking, heightened arousal, and declines in risk behavior are linked to endocrine, genetic, and other physiological processes that interact with the contextual influences. These biosocial processes have evolutionary roots and are important for fathers as well as for mothers. In turn, the context of parenting, defined both by support and adversity, affects offspring self-regulation and ability to cope with stress and establish secure relationships.

Lead Speaker: Alison Fleming, University of Toronto at Mississauga

Discussants:
Anne Storey, Memorial University at Newfoundland
Susan Calkins, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Jay Belsky, Birkbeck University of London

How do physiological and social environmental factors within the family influence development and adjustment in adolescence?
Adolescence is a period of dramatic transformation including biological, social, and cognitive changes. It is a period when youth gain autonomy and cultivate peer relationships. Many youth develop romantic relationships, and some become involved in risky and delinquent behavior. It is also a period of greater gender differentiation. Genetic factors, physiological processes, and shifts in social environmental influences are integral to understanding adolescent development.

Lead Speaker: Jenae Neiderhiser, Penn State

Discussants:
S. Alexandra Burt, Michigan State University
Sheri Berenbaum, Penn State
Sally Powers, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

How do physiological and social environment factors in the developed world influence mate selection, family formation, and fertility?
In traditional foraging societies, onset of fecundability, initiation of sexual activity, and reproduction tended to co-occur within a few years. The total fertility rate of women was often substantial. These patterns stand in sharp contrast to those in contemporary developed countries, where physiological maturation occurs even earlier than in the past, but entry into stable unions and parenthood occur much later. This trend is dramatic in some developed countries, where delayed reproduction is coupled with below-replacement fertility. Women's opportunities in the work force, delayed marriage, effective birth control methods, and shifts in cultural values account for much of the recent fertility decline and delay. Women have many more reproductive options, leading some scholars to ask whether genetic influences on fertility-especially its timing-are greater than in the past. Other issues include the implications of fertility decline and delay for mate selection, family formation, and the processes underlying reproduction.

Lead Speaker: Steven Gangestad, University of New Mexico

Discussants:
Brian D'Onofrio, Indiana University
David Schmitt, Bradley University
S. Philip Morgan, Duke University

How do physiological and social factors influence family adaptations to resource disparities?
Social inequality influences parenting practices, the quality of family relationships, and the behavior, health and development of family members. Resource disparities also increase the chances of conflict and instability at the community level, which in turn elevate stress and further erode family well-being. Inequality exerts its effects, in part, through its impacts on physiological processes: Harsh environments lead to physiological and behavioral adaptations to stress that increase the chances of survival. For example, activation of the HPA axis provides for adaptive reactions to proximal stressors, though long term activation comes at a cost of poor health. In addition, early child rearing practices may be harsher among disadvantaged mothers, thereby disposing children to surviving in a challenging environment, but these harsh strategies may come at a cost. Parents also may adapt to challenging circumstances by channeling scarce resources to offspring with the best potential for success, but their differential investments may undermine the well-being of other offspring.

Lead Speaker: Guang Guo, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Discussants:
Mark Flinn, University of Missouri
Gary Evans, Cornell University
Dalton Conley, New York University

Symposium Sponsors

The symposium is supported annually by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the following organizations at Penn State: Population Research Institute; Children, Youth and Families Consortium; Prevention Research Center; Women's Studies Program; the departments of Sociology, Labor Studies, Human Development and Family Studies, and Psychology.

The 2009 symposium was supported by Salimetrics--providing researchers salivary assay tools for studying a wide range of genetic and hormone markers affecting health, behavior and development.

The 2009 National Symposium on Family Issues is organized by Alan Booth, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Human Development and Demography, Nancy Landale, Professor of Sociology and Demography and Director of the Population Research Institute, and Susan M. McHale, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and Director, Social Science Research Institute and Children, Youth and Families Consortium.

Book Citation

Booth, A., McHale, S., & Landale, N. (Eds.). (2010). Biosocial Foundations of Family Processes New York: Springer.

Book Access Information

If your university library subscribes to Springer's eBook package, you will now be able to read the book online, download chapters and/or purchase a $24.95 paperback version of the book through the service MyCopy. Check with your university library to find out if the eBook package has been purchased and if the MyCopy feature is turned on. Then search in your library's catalog system for the book title. You should be directed to www.springer.com.

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