Background: Harsh environments are known to predict deficits in children's cognitive abilities. Life history theory approaches challenge this interpretation, proposing stressed children's cognition becomes specialized to solve problems in fitness-enhancing ways. The goal of this study was to examine associations between early environmental harshness and children's problem-solving outcomes across tasks varying in ecological relevance. In addition, we utilize an evolutionary model of temperament toward further specifying whether hawk temperament traits moderate these associations. Methods: Two hundred and one mother–child dyads participated in a prospective multimethod study when children were 2 and 4 years old. At age 2, environmental harshness was assessed via maternal report of earned income and observations of maternal disengagement during a parent–child interaction task. Children's hawk temperament traits were assessed from a series of unfamiliar episodes. At age 4, children's reward-oriented and visual problem-solving were measured. Results: Path analyses revealed early environmental harshness and children's hawk temperament traits predicted worse visual problem-solving. Results showed a significant two-way interaction between children's hawk temperament traits and environmental harshness on reward-oriented problem-solving. Simple slope analyses revealed the effect of environmental harshness on reward-oriented problem-solving was specific to children with higher levels of hawk traits. Conclusions: Results suggest early experiences of environmental harshness and child hawk temperament traits shape children's trajectories of problem-solving in an environment-fitting manner.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Number of pages||8|
|Journal||Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines|
|State||Published - Aug 2017|
- Human ecology
- cognitive development