U. S. Government statistics indicate that, in 2005, of the 3.3 million cases of child abuse reported, nearly 1 million were substantiated (DHHS, 2007). Clearly, child maltreatment represents a threat to the current and future mental and physical health of our nation's children. Based on the protracted influence of maltreatment, estimates of its societal cost are almost necessarily underestimated. Because parents are most implicated, research into the thoughts and feelings of parents that set them at risk for such maltreatment are pressing. Research into the beliefs that parents have concerning children has been useful in this respect, with this knowledge translating into empirically validated child abuse prevention programs. However, whereas this research considered the contents of parental cognitions, it has failed to adequately consider the role that cognitive processes play in maladaptive parenting. The proposed research seeks to fill this gap in our understanding. By capitalizing on research employing neurocognitive tasks of cognitive flexibility (an aspect of executive function) in the study of maladaptive behavior, this study will employ similar measures to better understand the processes underlying such parenting. Using these tasks, the purpose of the proposed research is to assess the role of flexible adaptation to changing contingencies (cognitive flexibility) in parent child relationships. This research focuses on authoritarian parenting, characterized by adherence to a rigid set of rules, as opposed to flexible adaptation to parenting challenges. It may, thus, prove to be a manifestation of the type of cognitive inflexibility just discussed.
The first aim of this study is to assess whether authoritarian parenting is predicted by cognitive flexibility.
A second aim i s to assess if, and how, sociocultural factors interact with cognitive flexibility in predicting parental authoritarianism.
A third aim i s to assess the relative predictive utility of parenting variables on cognition and behavior in adolescent children. The proposed research has clear translational implications in that its findings can be used to complement our current understanding of parenting cognition. In turn, this will allow for the construction of more effective assessments of parents at risk for child maltreatment, as well as in constructing interventions aimed at treatment of these parents.