Depressed and non-depressed mothers with problematic preschoolers: Attributions for child behaviours

Caroline White, Christine Barrowclough

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Objectives. This study examines the spontaneous causal attributions made by mothers about their preschool children's problem behaviour and investigates the relationship between causal attributions and maternal depression. Design. Two groups of mothers were compared, a depressed and a non-depressed group, while all women included identified their preschool child as having some problem behaviours. There were 25 women in each group. Methods. The spontaneous attributions of mothers were assessed from audiotaped interviews using an adaptation of the Leeds Attributional Coding System for the extraction and analysis of attributional statements. Results. Depressed mothers made more spontaneous causal attributions about their children's problem behaviour than did the non-depressed group; and the depressed group perceived these causes as being more stable, more controllable and more personal to the child than their non-depressed counterparts. There was also evidence that depressed mothers made more internal attributions about themselves as the cause of their children's problem behaviour than non-depressed mothers. The study indicates that the personal-to-child dimension is the attributional variable most strongly associated with depression. Conclusions. This study provides evidence that depressed mothers have attributional biases when compared to non-depressed mothers. The authors suggest that their attributions may mediate coping responses and hence may influence parenting behaviour. The clinical and research implications of the findings are discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)385-398
    Number of pages13
    JournalBritish Journal of Clinical Psychology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 1998


    • Adult
    • Child
    • diagnosis: Child Behavior Disorders
    • Child, Preschool
    • diagnosis: Depression
    • Female
    • Humans
    • Internal-External Control
    • Male
    • Mother-Child Relations
    • psychology: Mothers
    • psychology: Parenting
    • Personality Assessment
    • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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