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J Child Fam Stud. 2011 Apr;20(2):171-181. Epub 2010 Dec 3.

Does Father Know Best? A Formal Model of the Paternal Influence on Childhood Social Anxiety.

Abstract

We explore paternal social anxiety as a specific risk factor for childhood social anxiety in a rational optimization model. In the course of human evolution, fathers specialized in external protection (e.g., confronting the external world) while mothers specialized in internal protection (e.g., providing comfort and food). Thus, children may instinctively be more influenced by the information signaled by paternal versus maternal behavior with respect to potential external threats. As a result, if fathers exhibit social anxiety, children interpret it as a strong negative signal about the external social world and rationally adjust their beliefs, thus becoming stressed. Under the assumption that paternal signals on social threats are more influential, a rational cognitive inference leads children of socially anxious fathers to develop social anxiety, unlike children of socially anxious mothers. We show in the model that mothers cannot easily compensate for anxious paternal behavior, but choose to increase maternal care to maintain the child's wellbeing. We discuss research directions to test the proposed model as well as implications for the prevention and treatment of child social anxiety.

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