Children’s Intent Attributions and Feelings of Distress: Associations with Maternal and Paternal Parenting Practices

  • David A. Nelson
  • Sarah M. Coyne


Many studies point to the importance of social information processing mechanisms in understanding distinct child behaviors such as aggression. However, few studies have assessed whether parenting might be related to such mechanisms. This study considers how aversive forms of parenting (i.e., corporal punishment, psychological control) as well as parental warmth and responsiveness might be concurrently associated with children’s hostile intent attributions and emotional distress in response to ambiguous provocation scenarios (both instrumental and relational). A sample of 219 children (101 boys, 118 girls) and their parents participated. Bivariate associations showed that parenting dimensions and child variables were significantly associated in mostly expected ways, but only in father–child relationships (especially father–son relationships). Analyses generally showed dimensions of aversive parenting by fathers to be associated with a greater tendency toward hostile attributional bias in children. Moreover, paternal warmth and responsiveness, as well as corporal punishment, were associated with less emotional distress in boys. In contrast, paternal psychological control predicted greater emotional distress in boys. The findings suggest that the tone of the father–son relationship, in particular, may help set the tone for how boys interpret their social world. Psychological control figures prominently in this regard.


Intent attributions Parenting Emotional distress Psychological control 



Portions of this paper were presented in C. Cheah & C. H. Hart (Chairs), Concomitants and Predictors of Parenting: A Cultural Perspective at the biennial meetings of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development, held in Wurzburg, Germany (July, 2008). Funding for this study was provided by several grants from entities at Brigham Young University, including the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, the Family Studies Center, the Kennedy Center for International Studies, and a Fulton Young Scholar Award given to first author.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Family LifeBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  2. 2.School of Family LifeBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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