Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Julia Jaekel

Committee Members

Amy Rauer, Hillary Fouts, Terri Combs-Orme


A range of early adversities put children at risk for social difficulties, but the mechanisms through which preterm birth specifically is linked to social problems are not well understood. Biopsychosocial frameworks suggest that both external (i.e., family environment) and internal (i.e., child characteristics) factors interact with the developing brain to shape social outcomes. To explore mechanisms underlying the association between preterm birth and social problems, this dissertation includes three manuscripts that longitudinally explore internal and external predictors of social development outcomes in preterm and term children from childhood to early adulthood. The first manuscript compared the impact of VP birth/very low birthweight (VP/VLBW; < 32 weeks’ gestation or < 1,500 grams) and extended institutional deprivation (> 6 months of severely depriving institutional rearing) on temperament across five dimensions at 6 years of age, by comparing 299 VP/VLBW children to 311 healthy term controls, and 101 post-institutionalized children to 52 non-deprived adoptees. Results showed that VP/VLBW and post-institutionalized children had similarly aberrant temperamental profiles in terms of lower effortful control, but different aberrant profiles in terms of higher activity (post-institutionalized only) and lower shyness (VP/VLBW only). The second manuscript explored whether parent-infant relationships and child temperament mediated a developmental cascade from preterm birth to poorer friendships. Path analyses were conducted for 1,181 children born across the whole gestational age range. Results showed evidence of cascading effects from gestational age to parent-infant relationships, to inhibitory control, and to social inhibition, which partially explained differences in friendships at 8 years. The third manuscript explored peer relationship trajectories of VP/VLBW and term-born individuals from childhood to early adulthood. Based on parent and self-reports at 6, 8, 13, and 26 years of age, peer acceptance, friendships, and peer problems trajectories were identified using latent profile analyses. Higher cognitive abilities at 20 months of age predicted more optimal trajectories in all peer relationship domains. Good parent-infant relationships at 5 months predicted lower peer problems trajectories. Early predictors differed for the VP/VLBW and term-born samples. Implications regarding mechanisms linking preterm birth and long-term socialization are discussed across each manuscript.

Available for download on Friday, May 15, 2026

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