Date of Award

Fall 12-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Applied Developmental Psychology

Major Professor

Laura Scaramella, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Paul Frick, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Robert Laird, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Michelle Martel, Ph.D.

Fifth Advisor

Charles Zeanah, M.D.


Understanding pathways to physical child abuse may aid in creating and implementing abuse prevention services. Yet studying child abuse in community samples of parents is fraught with challenges. One solution to these challenges is to examine markers of physical child abuse, rather than asking about abuse directly. The goal of the current investigation is to test a theoretical model of processes that increase the presence of four proximal risk factors, or markers, which have been linked to increased risk for physical child abuse in mothers of young children. The four markers of physical child abuse include: child abuse potential, over-reactive discipline, spanking acceptance, and mothers’ negative child perceptions. Positive associations between an accumulation socio-contextual risk and markers of physical abuse are hypothesized. An accumulation of socio-contextual risk is expected to indirectly predict markers of physical abuse by reducing parenting locus of control, or parents’ perceptions of control in the parent-child relationship. Furthermore, social support and children’s externalizing behavior problems are expected to diminish or intensify this mediated process, respectively. Participants included 85 mothers of young children (ages 1½ to 5 years) from diverse backgrounds. Of the four markers of abuse, cumulative risk and parenting locus of control were correlated only with mothers’ child abuse potential and no statistical association between cumulative risk and parenting locus of control was found. Limited support for moderation hypotheses emerged. Theoretical implications are discussed.


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