Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Bridgett, David J.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


A phenomenon known as the intergenerational transmission of parenting, where children tend to parent their children in a manner similar to how their own parents provided care, has received notable attention within developmental research. While several mechanisms focusing on cognitive and psychological factors have been proposed, there is less research examining biological mechanisms within the intergenerational transmission of parenting framework, especially when considering caregiving behavior exhibited in the context of child distress. Further, few studies have examined parent attributes which may disrupt the intergenerational transmission of parenting. The current study seeks to examine the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress response as a mechanism of the intergenerational transmission of parenting. The HPA axis stress response, measured via salivary cortisol output, is known to be sensitive to early childhood parenting experiences and programs an individual's response to stressors. Thus, when faced with parenting-related stressors (e.g., infant distress) as an adult, the prior programing of the HPA axis was expected to account for variation in behavioral caregiving responses including sensitivity and expressions of frustration. To extend the literature further, emotion regulation skills (i.e., reappraisal and suppression) were tested as moderators whereby the use of reappraisal and suppression was expected to buffer the negative effects of poor early caregiving on cortisol and subsequent behavioral responses to infant distress. Findings did not support HPA axis stress response as a mechanism of the intergenerational transmission of parenting, nor was there evidence of moderated mediation by emotion regulation strategies. However, basal cortisol was positively associated with caregiver sensitivity in response to infant distress, and both reappraisal and suppression separately moderated the relationship between basal cortisol and sensitivity, such that the association between basal cortisol and sensitivity is stronger for high reappraisers and low suppressors. Implications are discussed.


164 pages




Northern Illinois University

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