Children’s Intent Attributions and Feelings of Distress: Associations with Maternal and Paternal Parenting Practices


Intent attributions, Parenting, Emotional distress, Psychological control


Many studies point to the importance of social information processing mechanisms in understanding distinct child behaviors such as aggression. However, few studies have assessed whether parenting might be related to such mechanisms. This study considers how aversive forms of parenting (i.e., corporal punishment, psychological control) as well as parental warmth and responsiveness might be concurrently associated with children’s hostile intent attributions and emotional distress in response to ambiguous provocation scenarios (both instrumental and relational). A sample of 219 children (101 boys, 118 girls) and their parents participated. Bivariate associations showed that parenting dimensions and child variables were significantly associated in mostly expected ways, but only in father–child relationships (especially father–son relationships). Analyses generally showed dimensions of aversive parenting by fathers to be associated with a greater tendency toward hostile attributional bias in children. Moreover, paternal warmth and responsiveness, as well as corporal punishment, were associated with less emotional distress in boys. In contrast, paternal psychological control predicted greater emotional distress in boys. The findings suggest that the tone of the father–son relationship, in particular, may help set the tone for how boys interpret their social world. Psychological control figures prominently in this regard.

Original Publication Citation

Nelson, D. A., & Coyne, S. M. (2009). Children’s intent attributions and feelings of distress: Associations with maternal and paternal parenting practices. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 223-237.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor