Adopted Child Abuse & Maltreatment
The Abuse Evidence Found In the Physiology of
the Perpetrator Mother's Biological Responding __________________________________________
UO researcher finds abusive parenting may have a biological basis
For the experiment, mothers and children were monitored to record changes in heart rate while playing together in the lab. Parenting behavior was scored to capture positive parenting and strict, hostile control using a standard coding system.
What emerged, Skowron said,
1) Skowron on main finding, 20 seconds
2) Skowron on the challenges of intervention, 66 seconds
Participants in the National Institutes of Health-funded study were 141 mothers — 94 percent Caucasian with a high school degree or less and incomes at or below $30,000 — and their children, ranged in age from 3 to 5 years old. The research focuses on tracking the effects of physiology on parenting in real time.
"Abusive mothers who try to warmly support their child when the child faced a moderate challenge displayed a physiological response that suggested they're stressed, on alert and preparing to defend against a threat of some kind," said Skowron, a researcher at the Child and Family Center/Prevention Science Institute at the UO. "This kind of physiological response then led to a shift in an abusive mother becoming more hostile, strict, and controlling ways with her young child, regardless of how her child was behaving."
The findings, she added, suggest that when physically abusive mothers experience being a nurturing parent they find it to be hard work. "It appears to quickly wear them out, perhaps because it challenges them in ways that lower-risk mothers don't experience," she said. "An abusive mother appears caught: When she does a good job with her child, it costs her physiologically, and it negatively affects her because it leads to more aversive parenting."
The team's findings help to explain why abusive parenting is so resistant to most interventions, Skowron said. "Most parents who struggle with child maltreatment really love their children and want help improving their parenting skills. Our findings suggest that many are experiencing a biological response during parenting that actively interferes with their efforts to parent in warm and nurturing ways."
The next step, she said, is exploring how to translate the new discovery into interventions specifically designed for parents struggling with child abusive. “We have to figure out how to help these high-risk parents calm themselves down more effectively and enjoy the experience of supporting their children in warm, positive ways. First, she noted, it will be important for other researchers to replicate the findings.
"Researchers at the University of Oregon continue to yield critical insights that result in more effective prevention strategies," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, vice president for research and innovation and dean of the UO Graduate School. "This research by Dr. Skowron revealing a potential neurobiological trigger involved in abusive parenting may lead to new interventions that could help to improve the lives of children."
Co-authors with Skowron were Elizabeth Cipriano-Essel and Aaron L. Pincus, both of Pennsylvania State University where Skowron conducted this research, Lorna Smith Benjamin of the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, and Mark J. Van Ryzin, research associate in the UO Child and Family Center and researcher at the Eugene-based Oregon Social Learning Center.
NIH grant RO1 MH079328 to Skowron supported the research through the National Institute of Mental Health. Additional funding was provided by the Administration for Children and Families, through its Children's Bureau of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, as part of the Federal Child Neglect Research Consortium.
About the University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.
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