Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Role of Maternal Executive Function

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Role of Maternal Executive Function

Article excerpt


Childhood maltreatment is associated with increased risk of psychopathology, cognitive dysfunction, and impaired relationships, including parenting difficulties. In addition, according to recent studies, the consequences of childhood maltreatment may extend to the next generation. Difficulties with executive function have been linked to both child maltreatment and parenting, but rarely to both simultaneously. The purpose of this review is to propose a model examining executive function as a likely candidate for linking the distal factors of child maltreatment to parenting and subsequent child outcomes and to highlight relevant data for components of the model. This work may suggest new opportunities for targeting executive function as a viable target for interventions in the prevention of the transmission of risk.

Keywords: maternal history of childhood maltreatment, executive function, empathy, theory of mind and child outcomes


La maltraitance durant l'enfance est associée à un risque accru de psychopathologie, de dysfonction cognitive et de problèmes relationnels, y compris dans le rôle de parent. De plus, selon des études récentes, les conséquences de la maltraitance pendant l'enfance peuvent s'étendre à la prochaine génération. Les problèmes sur le plan des fonctions exécutives ont été associés à la fois aux mauvais traitements pendant l'enfance et aux fonctions parentales, mais rarement aux deux simultanément. Le but de cette revue est de proposer un modèle pour examiner les fonctions exécutives à titre d'élément probable liant les facteurs distaux de la maltraitance durant l'enfance au parentage et aux conséquences subséquentes sur l'enfant, et de mettre en relief les données pertinentes pour les composants du modèle. Ce travail pourrait susciter de nouvelles occasions de cibler les fonctions exécutives comme cible viable d'interventions de prévention de la transmission du risque.

Mots-clés : antécédents de maltraitance durant l'enfance de la mère, fonctions exécutives, empathie, théorie de l'esprit, développement de l'enfant.

Incidence and Prevalence of Child Maltreatment in Canada

Child maltreatment is a significant and costly public health problem. Prevalence data from the 2012 cycle of the Canadian Community Health Survey: Mental Health Supplement indicates that maltreatment is a common experience (Afifi et al., 2014). Overall, 30% of females retrospectively reported experiencing physical or sexual abuse (SA) or exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) during childhood. Therefore, almost one third of adult women may have experienced some form of maltreatment over the course of their childhood. Prevalence rates for emotional abuse and neglect do not currently exist in Canada. If all maltreatment types were considered, the reported prevalence rates would likely be much greater. Taken together, these figures indicate that family violence is a pervasive problem.

Impact of Child Maltreatment

Childhood maltreatment constitutes a major risk factor for impairment across various domains, such as emotional, behavioural, biological, and cognitive dysfunction (Cicchetti & Toth, 2005; Gilbert et al., 2009; Gonzalez, 2013). Adults who have experienced maltreatment in childhood are at an increased risk for exposure to later traumatic life events, developing psychiatric disorders, chronic physical diseases, and their comorbidity (Afifi et al., 2014; Collishaw et al., 2007; Gonzalez et al., 2012). In addition, maltreated children experience difficulties in forming secure attachment relationships with a primary caregiver, which potentiates continued difficulties in interpersonal relationships throughout development (Carlson, Cicchetti, Barnett, & Braunwald, 1989; Stronach et al., 2011). Women exposed to childhood abuse may experience problematic relationships later in life, including increased likelihood of divorce and increased rates of interpersonal aggression (Cannon, Bonomi, Anderson, Rivara, & Thompson, 2010; White & Widom, 2003), including aggression toward their offspring and parenting difficulties (Gonzalez, Jenkins, Steiner, & Fleming, 2012; Pereira, Vickers, Atkinson, Wekerle, & Levitan, 2012; Roberts, O'Connor, Dunn, Golding, & the ALSPAC Study Team, 2004). …

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