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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The relations among stress, executive functions, and harsh parenting in mothers Park, Joanne Lee


Stress is a common experience in most mothers’ lives, and theoretical models posit that mothers’ experience of stress may spillover into their parenting behaviours. However, individual factors, such as maternal executive functioning (EF) skills, may buffer the association between stress and parenting. Research has examined these associations using correlational designs with socioeconomic status (SES) and household chaos used as indicators of stress, and has demonstrated inconsistent patterns with regard to the moderating role of EF. The first aim of this study was to replicate previous findings by examining how maternal EF moderates the association between SES and household chaos, and harsh parenting. Furthermore, because correlational research designs preclude the ability to make causal inferences about the effects of stress on parenting, the second aim of this study extended existing research by investigating the effects of experimentally induced stress on harsh parenting behaviours and whether maternal EF moderates these effects. The second aim also investigated these questions in relation to child-blaming attributions. To accomplish these aims, a sample of 104 mothers with children (6-10 years old) participated in a laboratory-based study. Mothers completed measures that assessed their EF skills, household chaos, SES, and harsh parenting behaviours. Additionally, mothers were randomly assigned to either a stress group, where they performed a speech in front of a panel of judges, or a control group. Following the stress (or control) induction, mothers rated their child-blaming attributions and harsh parenting behaviours in response to vignettes of common child misbehaviours. Findings from the first aim revealed an interaction between household chaos and EF (assessed with cognitive tasks), such that greater EF skills reduced the association between household chaos and harsh parenting behaviours. However, findings from the second aim indicated no significant effects of experimentally induced stress on child-blaming attributions or harsh parenting behaviours, and EF was not a significant moderator. These results highlight the buffering role of task-based EF skills for more chronic stressors such as household chaos. More acute stress, or stress that is more distal to parenting (e.g., SES) may be less relevant. The findings from this study provide pertinent directions for future research.

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