College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-25-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Cecilia Martinez-Torteya, PhD

Second Advisor

Jocelyn Carter, PhD

Third Advisor

Kathryn Grant, PhD


Among women over age 18, 1 in 3 have experienced intimate partner violence, including physical aggression and stalking, and nearly 1 in 5 have experienced some type of sexual violence during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood (Black et al., 2011). Given the high rates of trauma experiences in women of childbearing age, especially in low-income populations (Gillepsie et al, 2009), it is critical to examine the effect these experiences have on women´s parenting, especially during infancy, a sensitive period for many important domains of child development (Bornstein, 2002). Previous research has demonstrated experiencing victimization can affect maternal caregiving (Trickett, Noll, Putnam, 2011). However, findings vary depending on the type and timing of the trauma assessed, the parenting outcomes evaluated, and other methodological factors. Moreover, the contribution of infant characteristics to the parenting of trauma-exposed women has been only rarely examined in previous research. The purpose of the current study is to assess whether infant temperament interacts with maternal experience of trauma to contribute to mothers’ emotional availability. A community sample of 72 mother–infant dyads who participated in a cross-sectional study exploring the effects of maternal trauma and intimate partner violence (IPV) on relational, behavioral, and physiological infant outcomes, was used for the current study. Self-reports on the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (Bernstein & Finke, 1998), the Life Stressor Checklist Revised (Wolfe, Kimerling, Brown, Chrestman, & Levin, 1996), and the Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996) were used to compute an index of lifetime cumulative maternal victimization. Maternal reports on the Infant Behavior Questionnaire (Gartstein & Rothbart, 2003) yielded infant Negativity, Surgency, and Regulation scores. Mothers emotional availability during free play with their infants was coded using the Emotional Availability Scales (Biringen, 2008). Regressions were used to evaluate whether infant temperament moderates the effect of maternal victimization on maternal emotional availability, including her sensitivity, structuring, intrusiveness, and hostility during mother-infant interactions. An examination of main effects showed expected results for sensitivity and structuring, with higher levels of trauma being linked to lower levels of sensitivity and structuring. In addition, higher levels of infant surgency were linked to higher levels of maternal hostility. Moderation analyses revealed a significant interaction for maternal cumulative trauma and infant temperamental negativity on the degree of maternal non-intrusiveness, where for infants with highest negative affect, higher maternal trauma was associated with increased intrusiveness, and for infants with lowest negative affect, more maternal trauma was associated with decreased intrusiveness. The current study contributes to the literature in several ways. First, it shows not all elements of parenting are similarly affected by exposure to trauma. Second, it demonstrates the role infant temperament plays in affecting mother-infant relationships, and highlights the importance of taking an integrated perspective when viewing the relationship between trauma and parenting. Findings could be used to identify dyads at higher risk of relationship dysfunction, as well as provide information on elements to add to existing interventions, such as strategies for regulating infant distress.

SLP Collection