Harsh mothers are more likely to have poor executive functioning and perceive others' behavior as hostile

Harsh mothers are more likely to have poor executive functioning and perceive others' behavior as ho ...

According to a new research, mothers who have harsher parenting methods have a tendency to have lower executive functioning and are more prone to hostile attribution bias. The validity of these connections largely depended on the authoritarian childrearing attitudes of these mothers.

Executive function is a term that encompasses a number of the most complex cognitive processes involved in regulating one's behavior. These include the ability to keep current tasks and tasks in mind (to remember what one is doing and information necessary for that), the ability to suppress one's own impulses that are irrelevant for the purpose at hand, and the ability to modify one's behavior when circumstances change.

Previous studies have shown that poorer executive functioning of mothers might be linked to harsher parenting methods, including verbal aggression (yelling or name calling) and physical aggression (spanking or hitting).

Authoritarian childrearing beliefs are linked to harsher parenting practices, according to other studies. Such parents are more likely to reject the child, abuse corporal punishment, and be aloof and aloof towards the child.

Kirby Deater-Deckard and his colleagues hypothesized that lower executive function would be associated with harsher parenting in mothers, particularly among those who have authoritarian childrearing beliefs and are susceptible to hostile attribution bias. Hostile attribution bias is a tendency to interpret others' behavior as hostile, especially when it isn't.

According to Deater-Deckard, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at UMass Amherst, there is growing interest in psychology and neuroscience on how parents' abilities and capacities to self-regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can affect their positive and negative parenting behaviors toward their children.

Christina Bertrand, my PhD student, and I were interested in a recent research that examined mothers' executive functioning in response to their parenting behaviors differently depending on their prior childrearing beliefs about the authority of parents and other adults in their lives. So, we wanted to try and replicate that study and extend it further.

They collected data from 156 mothers with children aged 3 to 7 years old. Half of the children of these mothers were girls. In the study, the mothers' age ranged from 21 to 52 years old. 36% of mothers were single, and 79% were white.

Assessments of childrearing abilities (the Parental Modernity Scale), parenting competence (the Stroop Color Word Task, Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, two subscales from the Adult Temperament Questionnaire – Short Form), and harsh parenting (the Parent Feelings Questionnaire and observer ratings of behavior)

Authoritarian beliefs and hostile attribution bias were positively related to each other and negatively related to executive functioning. Additionally, lower socioeconomic status was associated with decreased executive functioning and greater authoritarian beliefs and hostile attribution bias.

More powerful authoritarian behaviors strengthened the link between executive functioning and harsh parenting, according to analyses. The same effect was found for hostile attribution, although the effect was only marginally significant.

Deater-Deckard told PsyPost that his findings showed that weaker executive function may lead to harsher, more harmful parenting for mothers.

“Having excellent attention, memory, and impulse regulation is critical to nonreactive, calm parenting in the face of many difficulties, including challenging child behavior. This seems to be particularly true for parents who emphasize authority and attribute intention to child misbehavior.”

The findings from the study are valuable to scientific knowledge on the psychological basis of different parenting behaviors. However, there are limitations that must be addressed. Notably, the sample consisted solely of mothers and did not include the effects of fathers, their views, or parental practices. Some of the findings were dependent on the age of the child; others may not be the same.

Christina Bertrand, Martha Ann Bell, and Kirby Deater-Deckard co-authored the article "Maternal executive function, authoritarian attitudes, and hostile attribution bias as interdependent predictors of harsh parenting."

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