Maternal Scaffolding in a Disadvantaged Global Context: The Influence of Working Memory and Cognitive Capacities

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Abstract

The current study focuses on maternal cognitive capacities as determinants of parenting in a highly disadvantaged global context, where children’s experiences at home are often the 1st and only opportunity for learning and intellectual growth. In a large sample of 1,291 biological mothers of preschool-aged children in rural Pakistan, we examined the unique association of maternal working memory skills (independent of related cognitive capacities) with cognitively stimulating parenting behaviors. Path analysis revealed that directly assessed working memory, short-term memory, and verbal intelligence independently predicted greater levels of observed maternal scaffolding behaviors. Mothers from poorer families demonstrated lower levels of working memory, short-term memory, and verbal intelligence. However, mothers’ participation in an early childhood parenting intervention that ended 2 years prior to this study contributed to greater levels of working memory skills and verbal intelligence. Further, all 3 domains of maternal cognitive capacity mediated the effect of family economic resources on maternal scaffolding, and verbal intelligence also mediated the effect of early parenting intervention exposure on maternal scaffolding. The study demonstrates the unique relevance of maternal working memory for scaffolding behaviors that required continuously monitoring the child’s engagement, providing assistance, and minimizing external distractions. These results highlight the importance of directly targeting maternal cognitive capacities in poor women with little or no formal education, using a 2-generation intervention approach that includes activities known to promote parental executive functioning and literacy.

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