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01-10-2009 | Original Article | Uitgave 5/2009

Cognitive Therapy and Research 5/2009

The Relationship Between Parental Anxiety and Child-Related Cognition: An Experimental Approach

Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 5/2009
Bridie Gallagher, Sam Cartwright-Hatton


This study examined child-related cognition in parents of 3- to 9-year-old children (N = 30). Parents completed cognitive tasks to examine their interpretation of ambiguous scenarios, and to see how they generated and evaluated possible outcomes to neutral child-related events, including predicted child and parent distress. These tasks were completed under two conditions: (i) after parents’ anxiety had been manipulated upwards by the experimenter; (ii) whilst in their normal state. When the parents completed the cognitive tasks in the ‘anxious’ condition, they interpreted child-related ambiguous scenarios as more threatening in the open response format [t(29) = 2.43, P < 0.05], generated a greater proportion of negative outcomes to neutral child-related events, [t(29) = 4.30, < 0.001] and predicted these outcomes would be more distressing for both their child [t(29) = 2.71, P < 0.05] and themselves [t(29) = 4.76, < 0.001]. No significant differences were found in the forced choice responses to the ambiguous scenarios, and parents did not predict negative outcomes to be more likely in the ‘anxious’ condition. These results suggest that parental anxiety leads to an increase in child-related cognition characterised by threat and distress. The implications of these findings and area for future research are discussed.

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