Some adopted children experience lifestyle changes.

Why Do Psychologists Study Children Who Have Been Adopted?

by Kristine Tucker

Psychologists often study children, including toddlers and preschoolers, who have been adopted because the ongoing debate between nurture and nature is difficult to resolve. Psychologists can assess whether birth parents play a role in a child's physical, mental and emotional development, even when they don't have frequent contact with the child. They can also evaluate how quickly adopted children adjust to new caregivers and new surroundings.


Psychologists often study adopted toddlers and preschoolers because they want to know how adoption affects attachment. Developing a secure and loving attachment to a primary caregiver is extremely important because it builds a foundation of trust that often carries into adulthood, according to Attachment Parenting International. It can be difficult for new parents to establish healthy forms of attachment with adopted kids who come from abusive or neglectful home environments. Psychologists want to help adopted children and their new parents work through attachment and trust issues.


Favoritism toward biological children over adopted children is a hot topic for many psychologists. However, evidence shows that adopted children are often treated better than biological children. A 2007 study by Indiana University and the University of Connecticut revealed that adoptive parents were more likely to provide computers for their children, eat meals with their kids and get involved in sports and science projects, as reported on the Psychology Today website. A study by anthropologist Kyle Gibson showed that adopted children were more likely to attend preschool and get private academic tutoring, also reported on Psychology Today.


Some psychologists want to discover if adopted children remember and are affected by their biological parents. Children who are adopted at birth and never see their biological parents don't usually have any recollection of their birth parents. However, those who are adopted as toddlers or preschoolers might remember general or specific details about their biological parents. Some psychologists are interested to see how a biological parent's negative behavior has affected an adopted child. The child might be more likely to express anger in harmful ways, show signs of depression, have difficulty communicating, have limited self-awareness, struggle to express affection or battle self-esteem issues if she was mistreated or witnessed those behaviors in her biological parents.

Other Factors

Psychologists are interested in how age, ethnic background, medical conditions and siblings affect adoption. Some toddlers and preschoolers thrive in their new homes and bond quickly with new parents and siblings, while others struggle to make the necessary adjustments. Psychologists want to know how a child's culture, background and developmental stage affect his ability to mold into a new environment. A child's experiences in foster care, how long the child lived in a foreign country and how much time he spent with his biological parents often affect his ability to adjust to new surroundings.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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