Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

McCanne, Thomas R.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Crying in infants--Psychological aspects; Stress (Psychology); Child abuse--Psychological aspects; Stress (Physiology)


The Social Interactional Model of child abuse holds that it is necessary to examine the interaction between the parent, the child, and the situation in order to understand the abuse process. Researchers have explored the effect stress has on physical and psychological well being, and a natural progression from this research has been to examine the role stress might play in physical child abuse. It has been proposed that abusive parents possess a hyperreactive trait manifested by a generalized hyperresponsivity to stress. Physiological, behavioral, and self-report measures have been recorded to investigate the relationship between child-related stimuli and physically abusing and non-abusing parents' reactions to the stimuli. The purpose of this study was to examine whether at-risk women for perpetrating physical child abuse differed from low-risk women for perpetrating physical child abuse in their physiological, behavioral, and self-report reactions to a lengthy infant cry while performing a tedious, attention demanding task. Risk status was determined by the Child Abuse Potential Inventory. For the task, subjects determined whether three diamond shapes were the same size or were different in size. After 4 minutes of task performance alone, an infant's cry was presented and subjects continued the task for 8 more minutes in the presence of the cry stressor. Physiological, behavioral, and self-report measures were recorded. High CAP subjects reported feeling more annoyed, frightened, and distressed than low CAP subjects. High CAP individuals reported the cries as interfering more with concentration than low CAP individuals. Expected group differences between high and low CAP subjects for physiological responding were not detected. However, low CAP subjects' heart rate decreased significantly during resting Baseline Periods 2 and 3 following completion of the discrimination task, whereas high CAP subjects' heart rate did not significantly change during the baseline periods. These results suggest that low CAP subjects were better able to recover from the stress that was created by the task and ciy stimulus than high CAP subjects. This pattern of heart rate results lends support to a theory that abusive parents may possess a hyperreactive trait manifested by a generalized hyperresponsivity to stress.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [97]-101)


x, 116 pages




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