2015 IPFW Student Research and Creative Endeavor Symposium



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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Brenda Lundy-Jackson


Department of Psychology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne


The manner in which parents react to their children's display of negative emotions (e,g., sadness, fear, distress and anxiety) may have important implications for their children's social and emotional functioning (e.g., Dunsmore & Halberstedt, 1997). Sensitive responding, for example, has been associated with a broad range of positive developmental outcomes including, emotional perspective-taking, more friendships and reduced conflict within friendships (Eisenberg, et al., 1999; Leerkes, Crockenberg, & Burrous, 2004).

However, while the display of negative emotions elicits empathetic concern and sensitive responding in many adults (Leerkes, et al., 2004; Wiesenfeld, Whitman, & Malatesta, 1984; Zeifman, 2003), others find the negative emotions to be highly aversive, anxiety arousing and personally distressing (Frodi & Lamb, 1980). The feelings of distress and anxiety in such individuals are typically not reactions associated with empathy for the distressed child, but rather more selfish reactions in response to the negative stimulation (Davis, 1983). These selffocused responses serve to motivate these individuals to reduce their own anxiety or distress by either withdrawing from the aversive stimulation or by responding harshly and insensitively to the crying or distressed child (Cassidy, 1994; Dix, 1991; Leerkes & Crockenberg, 2006; Martin, Clements, & Crnic, 2002). In the present research, it was hypothesized that higher levels of parental depressive symptoms and anxiety would predict more personal distress and, in turn, more punitive reactions to children's negative emotions.

Participants included seventy-three undergraduate students who were parents of children under sixteen. Participants completed a demographic measure, the CES-D (depression scale), the STAI (anxiety measure), the Interpersonal Reactivity Scale and the Coping with Children's Negative Emotions Scale (CCNES).

As expected, depressive moods and anxiety were both positively associated with reports of more personal distress (r=.48, p<.001; r=.49, p<.001, respectively), and more negative reactions to children's emotions, including punitive responses (r=.43, p<.001; r=.32, p=.004). In addition, reports of personal distress predicted more punitive parenting in response to children's negative emotions (r=.39, p=.002). Mediation analyses revealed that personal distress served to mediate the relations between depression and punitive reactions (R2=.28, F(2,49)=9.63, p<.001,(95% CI: [0.001 to 0.022]), and state/trait anxiety and negative reactions (R2=.22, F(1,50)=13.94, p<.001,(95% CI: [0.001 - 0.012]). Parents who display higher levels of negative moods (depressive symptoms, anxiety) report more self-focused responses when their children display negative emotions. These findings may have important implication for children's social-emotional developmental outcomes.


Medicine and Health Sciences | Psychiatry and Psychology

20 Parental Depressive Symptoms Predict More Punitive Reactions