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Parenting, attention and externalizing problems: testing mediation longitudinally, repeatedly and reciprocally

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Building on prior work, this paper tests, longitudinally and repeatedly, the proposition that attentional control processes mediate the effect of earlier parenting on later externalizing problems. Methods: 

Repeated independent measurements of all three constructs – observed parenting, computer-tested attentional control and adult-reported externalizing problems – were subjected to structural equation modeling using data from the large-scale American study of child care and youth development. Results: 

Structural equation modeling indicated (a) that greater maternal sensitivity at two different ages (54 months, ∼6 years) predicted better attentional control on the Continuous Performance Test (CPT) of attention regulation two later ages (∼6/9 years); (2) that better attentional control at three different ages (54 months, ∼6/9 years) predicted less teacher-reported externalizing problems at three later ages (∼6/8/10 years); and (3) that attentional control partially mediated the effect of parenting on externalizing problems at two different lags (i.e., 54 months→∼6 years→∼8 years; ∼6 years→∼9 years→∼10 years), though somewhat more strongly for the first. Additionally, (4) some evidence of reciprocal effects of attentional processes on parenting emerged (54 months→∼6 years; ∼6 years→∼8 years), but not of problem behavior on attention. Conclusions: 

Because attention control partially mediates the effects of parenting on externalizing problems, intervention efforts could target both parenting and attentional processes.
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Keywords: Parenting; attention; externalizing problems; inhibition; mediation; sensitivity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Birkbeck University of London, UK 2: University College London, UK

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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