A social information processing (SIP) theory of parenting risk posits that social-cognitive and neurocognitive incapacities characterize at-risk parents, and that these cognitive difficulties operate across relational domains. This study focused on highly disadvantaged mothers of preschoolers and compared mothers with histories of perpetrating child neglect (n = 69) to demographically similar mothers without such histories (n = 76). Participants completed measures of unrealistic expectations for children and other adults, social problem-solving in parenting and nonparenting situations, executive functioning (EF), and attributions for children and other adults. As predicted, associations among these measures were found within and across relational domains. Exploratory factor analysis revealed two distinct clusters that distinguished the two groups. The first included measures of expectations and attributions (for both children and other adults) and the second included problem-solving difficulties and EF. When group differences were examined on individual variables, mothers with histories of perpetrating neglect exhibited more unrealistic expectations of children and other adults, more hostile attributions toward children and other adults, and poorer performance on tests of EF than comparisons. Only interpersonal problem-solving (in both parenting and nonparenting situations) failed to differentiate the neglect group from comparisons. In regression analyses, both parenting and nonparenting social cognition and EF contributed significantly to child neglect. These findings provide some support for this cognitive model of parenting risk and suggest widespread disturbances in parenting and nonparenting social cognition and neurocognition, may play a role in child neglect.
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