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Maternal predictors of children's social cognition: an attachment perspective

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Background: This paper assumes that the capacities to (1) openly acknowledge, and (2) elaborate a resourceful plan for coping with distress in the self and others are central features of social cognition. Method: These capacities were assessed in a sample (N=51) of 11-year-old children whose mothers and fathers had previously provided Adult Attachment Interviews (AAIs) before their children were born. The children were shown six line-drawn sequences of child(ren), with peer(s) and/or family in diverse situations involving some moderate distress. The experimenter described the adversity shown in the sequence (e.g., bully pushing over another school-aged child in the presence of onlookers) and then invited the child to attribute thoughts and feelings to the characters, and comment upon what might happen next. Results: Children whose responses scored highly for acknowledgement of the distress, and elaborating a resolution, were significantly more likely to have had mothers (but not fathers) whose AAIs were judged autonomous-secure as opposed to insecure (i.e., dismissing, preoccupied and/or unresolved). The significant influence of maternal representations of attachment upon the 11-year outcome remained even after taking account of concurrent parenting attitudes, children's verbal intelligence, as well as the previously assessed infant–parent attachment patterns. Conclusions: Discussion concerns the differential predictive power of maternal responses to the Adult Attachment Interview as related to the domain of children's social and emotional understanding.
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Keywords: Adult Attachment Interview (AAI); acknowledgement of distress; children's understanding of emotion; parenting; social cognition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Anna Freud Centre and University College London, UK

Publication date: 01 October 2002

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