Maternal anxiety and cognitive biases towards threat in their own and their child's environment

Kathryn J. Lester, Andy P. Field, Sam Cartwright-hatton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Cognitive biases are known to play an important role in anxiety. In this study we investigate whether maternal anxiety is associated with biases in interpretation, attention, and catastrophic processing about self-referent stimuli that may signal potential threat in the mother's own environment. We also investigate whether maternal anxiety is associated with biases about stimuli that their own child may encounter or to child-related stimuli more broadly. Three hundred mothers with a child aged 6 to 10 years participated. All participants completed a trait anxiety measure and an ambiguous sentences task to assess interpretation bias for self- and child-referent situations. A subset of the sample completed a catastrophizing interview about a self- (n = 194) or child-referent (n = 99) worry topic and an attentional dot-probe task (n = 99) with general threat and child threat stimuli. Maternal anxiety was not significantly associated with an attentional bias for general or child threat stimuli but was significantly associated with a bias for threat interpretations of both self and child-referent situations. Higher maternal anxiety was also significantly associated with generating more catastrophic outcomes to both a self-referent and child-referent hypothetical worry situation. We consider whether maternal cognitive biases, which extend to influence how mothers process potential threats in their child's world, may be an important mechanism through which intergenerational transmission of anxiety could occur.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)756-766
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Volume26
Issue number5
Early online date20 Aug 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012

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