Distorted Maternal Mental Representations and Atypical Behavior in a Clinical Sample of Violence-Exposed Mothers and Their Toddlers

J Trauma Dissociation. 2008;9(2):123-47. doi: 10.1080/15299730802045666.


Objective: To determine whether maternal violence-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reflective functioning (RF), and/or quality of mental representations of her child predict maternal behavior within a referred sample of interpersonal violence-exposed mothers and their children (ages 8-50 months).

Method: Forty-one dyads completed two videotaped visits including measures of maternal mental representations and behavior.

Results: Negative and distorted maternal mental representations predicted atypical behavior (Cohen's d>1.0). While maternal PTSD and RF impacted mental representations, no significant relationships were found between PTSD, RF, and overall atypical caregiving behavior. Severity of maternal PTSD was however positively correlated with the avoidant caregiving behavior subscale.

Conclusions: Maternal mental representations of her child are useful risk-indicators that mark dysregulation of trauma-associated emotions in the caregiver.

Keywords: Infancy; Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma; Maternal Behavior; Mental Representations; PTSD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Battered Women / psychology*
  • Battered Women / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Domestic Violence / psychology*
  • Domestic Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethnic Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / ethnology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires