Undergraduates Publish Research on Parenting Style and Language

Two undergraduates associated with the MSU Department of Communication conducted and published research through a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural project focused on parenting style and child language development. 

Simone Alhagri and Rachel Nelson partnered for more than a year to compare how authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles affect the language development of infants and toddlers in the U.S. and Chile. Their research was part of a long-term project between the MSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, Chile. 

Both students were looking for research experience to enhance their skills and prepare them for graduate school. Both were also interested in the effect of parenting on cognitive development and communication. Alhagri completed her bachelor’s in communication in December 2017, along with minors in health promotion and bioethics. Nelson also earned a bachelor’s in neuroscience, a bachelor’s in psychology, and a minor in philosophy, at the end of Fall Semester 2017. 

“As the oldest grandchild of 20 on my mother’s side, and being raised by my grandparents, I have always been interested in understanding how a child’s home environment may affect their cognitive development,” says Alhagri. “I am also bilingual, so this particular cross-cultural study peaked my interest.”

Alhagri and Nelson met after each joined a research team headed by Claire Vallotton, an associate professor in the department of Human Development and Family Studies. Initially launched in 2011, Vallotton’s “Cross-Cultural Development of the Expression of Emotion” project regularly welcomed students to participate in gathering and analyzing data as a way to gain research experience as an undergraduate. 

The two students joined the team in the Fall of 2014. Over the coming year or more, Alhagri and Nelson examined the development of expression, labeling, and the comprehension of basic emotions of children 18 to 30 months old. Data was collected and analyzed from researcher interactions with 174 groups of parents and children at child care centers and homes in Chile and the U.S. Alhagri and Nelson also reviewed literature and interacted with other researchers.

In April 2016, Alhagri and Nelson presented their findings at the 18th Annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. From there, the two transformed their UURAF presentation into a paper that was accepted and published in ReCUR—the Red Cedar Undergraduate Research journal of MSU. The paper outlined their hypothesis, methodology and findings. 

“Our hypothesis was that authoritative parenting would produce higher language scores as opposed to authoritarian parenting in both cultures,” says Nelson. “Our research solidified that, but also showed that different styles worked differently in different cultures. Children in both cultures saw increases in their expressive scores and cognitive growth with authoritative parenting. But in Chile, it was just a bit lower.”

Alhagri and Nelson hope their research within Vallotton’s project contributes to the body of literature on how parenting styles affect a person’s language and expressive abilities throughout life.

“Late infancy through toddlerhood is such a critical period for a child’s development overall,” says Alhagri. “This research could help educators and parents understand different learning methods and children’s behavioral patterns, and maybe learn what discipline techniques work best.”