Maternal Working Memory and Reactive Negativity in Parenting

Posted: August 11th, 2010 – An article published recently in the journal Psychological Science discusses the possibility that poor working memory in mothers causes increased reactive negativity in response to their child’s challenging behavior.

The researchers who conducted the study from George Mason University claim that reactive negativity from parents is a major cause of behavioral problems and psychopathology in children. They theorize that differing abilities in self regulation stemming from deficits in executive functioning in general, and specifically the working memory, cause some parents to demonstrate reactive negativity toward their children more often than others.

The study examined 216 mothers of same sex twin children as they performed frustrating tasks with their children. The researchers theorized that the mothers who were more prone to emotional negative responses to their child’s behavior were more likely to have a working memory deficit.

The researchers’ explanation for this theory is, as is stated in the article: “We focused on working memory because of its central role in the regulation of thoughts and emotions via reappraisal and because it is a simple and reliable indicator of a broader set of interrelated executive functions that serve self regulation… Working memory is fundamental to cognitive control of emotion, because it is the main cognitive tool that allows an individual to reflect on information and choose an action (i.e., to reason quickly), as opposed to simply behave reactively”.

The researchers confirmed in their study that reactive negativity in mothers as a response to their children’s challenging behavior was associated with maternal poor working memory.

This study again demonstrates the important role of working memory as a part of self regulatory executive functions, and as a cognitive function used constantly to process, manipulate, and respond to information.

View the abstract