Social cognitive processes play a central role in key dimensions of parenting (i.e., responsive involvement, discipline) that are core contributors to children's social and emotional development and targets of parenting interventions. Biased parental social cognitive processes interfere with parents'ability to accurately perceive and interpret children's behavior. Such biases increase the likelihood of problematic parenting (e.g., low responsive involvement, ineffective discipline), and negative child outcomes. Research to date has primarily emphasized individual dimensions of parental'social cognitive processes;as a result, little is known about how multiple dimensions of parental social cognitive processing operate together to contribute to the multiple core elements of parenting. In the proposed R21 exploratory/developmental study, we validate a multi-dimensional model of parental social cognitive processes in relation to two key dimensions of parenting: Responsive Involvement and Discipline. Drawing on theory and research, we propose an integrated model of parental social cognitive processes comprised of two broad dimensions: Social information processing (encoding, cognitive flexibility, and attributions) and Social cognitive set (schemas, goals, and self-efficacy). The proposed model's delineation of individual dimensions of parental social cognitive processes and hypotheses proposing differentiated associations between specific social cognitive components (i.e., social information processing, social cognitive set) and key aspects of parenting (i.e., responsive involvement and discipline) will importantly advance knowledge on substrates of promotive and problematic parenting. We will recruit a sample of 270 mothers of preschoolers who are heterogeneous with regards to parenting behaviors and stratified on key demographic characteristics related to parenting (i.e., ethnicity and poverty status). We will a) test the validity of the proposed parental social cognitive model, b) examine the association of the parental social cognitive model to parenting, and c) conduct exploratory analyses on fit of the model across key demographic subgroups. Rigorous model testing of an integrated, multi-dimensional model of social cognitive processes will provide valuable insights into how social cognitions about parenting relate to key dimensions of parenting. Validation with a sample stratified on ethnicity and poverty status ensures application of the proposed parental social cognitive model to diverse families. The proposed study provides the foundation for planned future study on enhancement of existing parenting interventions via integration of targeted social cognitive processes. Thus this is the first step in a program of research designed to increase effectiveness of parenting interventions for underrepresented populations and is consistent with the strategic priorities of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for research focusing on familial influences on child development and identification of mechanisms contributing to health disparities.

Public Health Relevance

This study validates an integrated, multidimensional model of maternal social cognition and examines relation of distinct social cognitive processes to key dimensions of parenting associated with child social and emotional development. Validation of a multi-dimensional model of parental social cognitive processes with an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample will increase understanding of factors related to parenting behaviors associated with competent and disruptive child outcomes in a broadly applicable manner. This information may generate novel social cognitive targets to be embedded into existing parenting interventions, which may enhance their effectiveness for families who have traditionally benefited least from these approaches.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Maholmes, Valerie
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Northwestern University at Chicago
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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