Associations Between Spontaneous Parental Perspective-Taking and Stimulated Cytokine Responses in Children With Asthma

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Objectives: Cognitive empathy in parents—reflecting the extent to which one considers the perspectives and emotions of others—is hypothesized to contribute to family social environments in ways that affect youths’ physical health. Using a novel assessment technique for cognitive empathy, the current study examined associations between spontaneous parental perspective-taking and key inflammatory processes implicated in pediatric asthma. Method: One hundred thirty children (ages 9–17) with physician-diagnosed asthma, along with 1 parent, participated in the current study. Parents completed an interview from which statements of perspective-taking were coded and youths provided blood samples. Results: Youths whose parents demonstrated greater spontaneous perspective-taking during the interview had cells that mounted smaller inflammatory responses to stimulation by nonspecific, asthma-specific, and viral analogue ligands, as well as cells that showed greater sensitivity to the anti-inflammatory effects of glucocorticoids. These results were not accounted for by parental warmth or parent or youth depressive symptoms, nor by covariates of race, age, gender, parental education level, use of asthma medications over the past week, or asthma severity. Conclusions: These findings suggest that parental perspective-taking may have implications for biological processes relevant to childhood asthma.

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