UO researcher: abusive parenting may have biological basis

Skowron
Skowron

Parents who physically abuse their children appear to have a physiological response that subsequently triggers more harsh parenting when they attempt parenting in warm, positive ways, according to new research.

Reporting in the quarterly journal “Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice,” a five-member team, led by Elizabeth Skowron, a professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services in the University of Oregon College of Education, documented connections between the nervous system's ability to calm heart rate — via electrocardiogram measures of parasympathetic activation — and the type of parenting mothers displayed during a laboratory interaction with their preschool child.

Studies of child maltreatment have consistently found that parents who physically abuse their children tend to parent in more hostile, critical and controlling ways. Skowron's team appears to have found evidence of a physiological basis for those patterns of aversive parenting — the use of hostile actions such as grabbing an arm or hand or using negative verbal cues in guiding a child's behavior — in a sample of families involved with Child Protective Services.

What emerged, Skowron said, were clear distinctions between abusive, neglectful and non-maltreating mothers in their physiological responses during parenting.

- from a story by Jim Barlow, UO Office of Strategic Communications