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J Interpers Violence. 2010 Feb;25(2):315-35. doi: 10.1177/0886260509334391. Epub 2009 Jun 9.

Personal contextual characteristics and cognitions: predicting child abuse potential and disciplinary style.

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University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Department of Psychology, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170, USA.


According to Social Information Processing theory, parents' cognitive processes influence their decisions to engage in physical maltreatment, although cognitions occur in the context of other aspects of the parents' life. The present study investigated whether cognitive processes (external locus of control, inappropriate developmental expectations) predicted child abuse potential and overreactive disciplinary style beyond personal contextual factors characteristic of the parent (hostility, stress, and coping). 363 parents were recruited online. Results highlight the relative importance of the contextual characteristics (particularly stress, avoidant coping, and irritability) relative to cognitive processes in predicting abuse potential and overreactive discipline strategies, although an external locus of control also significantly contributed. Findings do not support that parents' developmental expectations uniquely predict elevated abuse risk. Results indicate stressed parents who utilize avoidance coping strategies are more likely to use overreactive discipline and report increased abuse potential. Findings are discussed with regard to implications for prevention/intervention efforts.

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