Transient changes in mothers’ negative emotional reactivity predict changes in the intensity, persistence, and variability of their aversive behavior.

Justin K. Scott, Theodore Dix, Anat Moed, Edward R. Anderson, Shannon M. Greene

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Scopus citations


    Applying theories of emotion to understanding the regulation of aversive parenting, we used microanalytic observational methods to test whether transient changes in a mother’s negative emotional reactivity predict changes over time in key parameters of her moment-to-moment aversive behavior: its intensity, variability, persistence, and connection to difficult child inputs. At multiple times over 2 years, 319 divorcing mothers and their 5- to 12-year-old children were observed as they discussed mutual disagreements. Sequences of talk-turns were recorded and coded for affect and content. Relative to days when a mother was low in negative emotional reactivity, on days when she was high she displayed more intensely aversive behavior, more variable aversiveness, more transitions from average to high or low aversiveness, tendencies to remain aversive longer following spikes in her aversiveness, and difficulty maintaining low aversiveness following drops in her aversiveness. As her negative emotional reactivity increased, she went from being relatively unaffected by children’s difficult behavior to being aversively reactive; from ceasing aversive sequences increasingly quickly to ceasing aversive sequences increasingly slowly; from deviating more from her nonreactive low-aversive parenting to deviating less from her reactive high-aversive parenting. Independent of stable individual differences in mothers and children, transient variations in mothers’ emotional reactivity may correspond to key moment-to-moment parameters of aversive parenting, even when interactions are relatively noncontentious. The data provide a viable account of how initially transient, context-specific reactivity could initiate moment-to-moment changes in aversive patterns that in some families influence problematic family trajectories over time.

    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages13
    Early online date23 Nov 2020
    StatePublished - Sep 2022

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2020 American Psychological Association American Psychological Association


    • aversive parenting
    • coercive family process
    • difficult child behavior
    • divorced families
    • emotional reactivity


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