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Psychol Bull. 2015 May;141(3):602-654. doi: 10.1037/a0038662.

Intergenerational transmission of self-regulation: A multidisciplinary review and integrative conceptual framework.

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Department of Psychology, Northern Illinois University.
Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech.


This review examines mechanisms contributing to the intergenerational transmission of self-regulation. To provide an integrated account of how self-regulation is transmitted across generations, we draw from over 75 years of accumulated evidence, spanning case studies to experimental approaches, in literatures covering developmental, social, and clinical psychology, and criminology, physiology, genetics, and human and animal neuroscience (among others). First, we present a taxonomy of what self-regulation is and then examine how it develops--overviews that guide the main foci of the review. Next, studies supporting an association between parent and child self-regulation are reviewed. Subsequently, literature that considers potential social mechanisms of transmission, specifically parenting behavior, interparental (i.e., marital) relationship behaviors, and broader rearing influences (e.g., household chaos) is considered. Finally, evidence that prenatal programming may be the starting point of the intergenerational transmission of self-regulation is covered, along with key findings from the behavioral and molecular genetics literatures. To integrate these literatures, we introduce the self-regulation intergenerational transmission model, a framework that brings together prenatal, social/contextual, and neurobiological mechanisms (spanning endocrine, neural, and genetic levels, including gene-environment interplay and epigenetic processes) to explain the intergenerational transmission of self-regulation. This model also incorporates potential transactional processes between generations (e.g., children's self-regulation and parent-child interaction dynamics that may affect parents' self-regulation) that further influence intergenerational processes. In pointing the way forward, we note key future directions and ways to address limitations in existing work throughout the review and in closing. We also conclude by noting several implications for intervention work.

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