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Unconditional parental regard: Its nature and its consequences

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - UPR (Unconditional parental regard: Its nature and its consequences)

Reporting period: 2017-06-01 to 2018-05-31

Ill-being and motivational problems are on the rise among today’s youth. For example, the incidence of anxiety symptoms in youth has more than tripled since 2003. The aim of this project was to investigate whether such problems can be mitigated, in part, through unconditional regard.

Unconditional parental regard refers to parents accepting their children for who they are, even when they disapprove of children’s behaviors or achievements. Philosophers have argued that children should be loved and appreciated both in good times and in bad. Psychologists have argued, more precisely, that unconditional regard teaches children that they are worthy for who they are, raising their well-being and preserving their intrinsic motivation.

The overall objective of the project was to understand the nature and consequences of unconditional regard. The project has yielded novel ways of measuring and inducing experiences of unconditional regard, enabling scholars to investigate its real-world consequences.

The conclusion of this project is that unconditional regard may be an important psychological lever to reduce ill-being and motivational problems in youth.
First, we conducted a review of all available literature on the concept of unconditional regard, and we integrated the literature into an overarching theoretical model. Second, we conducted studies with preschoolers, with the overarching aim of developing an experimental paradigm to manipulate the experience of unconditional regard. Third, we conducted an observational-longitudinal study on real-life experiences of unconditional regard, and how those experience shape children’s development. Fourth, we edited two special sections in leading journals (i.e. Child Development and Journal of Abnormal Psychology) to better understand how socialization shapes children’s views of themselves. Fifth, we presented our research for various audiences: parents, teachers, educators, policy makers, developmental psychologists, and social psychologists. Sixth, we disseminated findings through national and international media, radio shows, podcasts, public lectures, and interviews for newspapers and magazines. Seventh, we published in top-tier scientific journals (e.g. Child Development, Nature Human Behaviour) and popular scientific outlets (e.g. Behavioral Scientist). Eighth, we established a productive collaboration between Stanford University and the University of Amsterdam (e.g. co-advising PhD students, co-authoring grant proposals).
First, our literature review shows that unconditional regard is reliably related to children’s well-being and motivation. Second, our experimental studies show that our newly developed paradigm effectively induces a sense of unconditional regard in children, and that children understand the meaning of that concept. Third, our observational-longitudinal research promises to reveal how real-life experiences of unconditional regard shape children’s development over extended periods of time. Fourth, our special sections show that research on the socialization of children’s self-views is beginning to bloom, and that we begin to understand how socialization affects even young children’s views of themselves.

Despite the potential benefits of unconditional regard, many modern-day parents provide children with conditional regard. For example, they make children feel loved only when they perform well in school, implicitly conveying to them that they are unlovable when they perform poorly. Our results promise to show the benefits of unconditional regard, and may thus point to new directions for everyday parenting practices as well as parenting interventions. Our results promise to inspire targeted intervention efforts to boost well-being and motivation in children, thus reducing individual suffering and yielding economic benefits of improved functioning (e.g. improved academic performance).
mother interacting with child