Attentional Avoidance of Emotional Stimuli in Postpartum Women With Childhood History of Maltreatment and Difficulties With Emotion Regulation

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Abstract

Child abuse and neglect can lead to difficulties regulating responses to threatening and emotional situations. Exposure to childhood maltreatment has been linked to conflicting findings of both attention biases toward and away from threat-related information. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether emotion regulation moderated the association between history of childhood maltreatment and attention bias in a sample of postpartum women. One hundred forty women participated in the study at 7 months postpartum. Selective attention to both negative emotional and attachment-related negative emotional words was assessed using the Emotional Stroop task. The latent variable of difficulties with emotion regulation was found to significantly moderate the association between history of childhood maltreatment and attention bias to both negative emotional (β = −0.15, t = −2.04, p < .05) and attachment-related negative emotional stimuli (β = −0.16, t = −2.98, p < .05). In women with higher childhood trauma scores, those with greater emotion regulation difficulties displayed decreased attention to negative emotional and attachment-related emotional stimuli. In contrast, women reporting higher exposure to childhood maltreatment with greater emotion regulation capacity, displayed increased attention toward negative emotional and attachment-related emotional stimuli. This study provides evidence for attentional avoidance of emotional material in postpartum women with greater experiences of maltreatment and difficulties with emotion regulation. As the postpartum period has significant implications for maternal well-being and infant development, these findings are discussed in terms of maternal responsiveness, sensitivity to threat, and the intergenerational transmission of risk.

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