A longitudinal investigation of maternal influences on the development of child hostile attributions and aggression

Sarah J. Healy, Lynne Murray, Peter J. Cooper, Claire J. Hughes, Sarah L. Halligan

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Aggression in children is associated with an enhanced tendency to attribute hostile intentions to others. However, limited information is available regarding the factors that contribute to the development of such hostile attribution tendencies. We examined factors that contribute to individual differences in child hostile attributions and aggression, focusing on potential pathways from maternal hostile attributions via negative parenting behavior. We conducted a longitudinal study of 98 mothers and children (47 male, 51 female), recruited from groups experiencing high and low levels of psychosocial adversity. Maternal hostile attributions, observed parenting, and child behaviour were assessed at 18 months and 5 years child age, and child hostile attributions were also examined at 5 years. Independent assessments of maternal and child processes were utilized where possible. Analyses provided support for a direct influence of maternal hostile attributions on the development of child hostile attributions and aggressive behaviour. Maternal hostile attributions were also associated with negative parenting behaviour, which in turn influenced child adjustment. Even taking account of possible parenting influences and preexisting child difficulties, hostile attributions in the mother showed a direct link with child aggression at 5 years. Maternal hostile attributions were themselves related to psychosocial adversity. We conclude that maternal hostile attributions are prevalent in high-risk samples and are related to less optimal parenting behaviour, child hostile attributions, and child aggression. Targeting hostile maternal cognitions may be a useful adjunct to parenting programs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-92
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date18 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


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