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The effect of child type and behavioural impact on mothers’ attributions for child behaviour Geller, Josephine Amanda Caroline

Abstract

This study examined the impact of two relationship-focused variables on the formation of parent causal attributions for child behaviour. Previous work has focused on the influence of general parent variables, child variables, and situational factors on these attributions. The present study highlighted the importance of the relational context of parent-child interactions as an influence on parent attributions, and addressed two important aspects of this relational context. First, parent attributions formed in response to behaviours of their own children were compared with those formed in response to behaviours of unknown children of the same age and gender as their own children. Second, the behavioural impact (inconvenience or no inconvenience to the mother) of children’s noncompliant behaviour on the mother was examined. Inconvenience was defined as the extent to which the mother was personally hassled or bothered by the child behaviour. Results indicated that with other children, the behavioural impact of child behaviours was positively related to stronger affective and behavioural responses. With their own children, mothers rated the cause of their child's noncompliance as less due to global and stable factors, and anticipated stronger affective and behavioural responses than with other children. Mothers also saw the cause of their own child's noncompliance as more due to themselves and within their own control than with other children. Regression analyses indicated that mothers' affective responses were predicted by the behavioural impact of the child's behaviour and by mothers' attributions regarding their own as well as their children’s role in causing the behaviour. In contrast, mothers' behavioural responses were predicted only by mothers' ratings of personal controllability. Higher perspective taking scores were related to seeing the child's behaviour as less due to internal, controllable causes, and to lower anticipated affective responses. Higher empathic concern scores were associated with lower anticipated response ratings, and to higher ratings of personal controllability over the situation. Finally, greater investment in parenting was associated with stronger affective and behavioural responses, and to a decreased likelihood of seeing the child's behaviour as due to internal and controllable causes. These findings were interpreted within the framework of Dix's (1991) model of affective processes on parenting, and as an application of the social cognition phenomenon of positive attributional biases as extended by parents to their children.

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