Transgenerational effects of maternal exposure to trauma: The roles of parenting and cortisol as potential mediators Open Access

Robinson, Brittany Alicia (2016)

Permanent URL:


Research suggests that maternal exposure to trauma may produce negative outcomes in offspring born post-trauma, including problems with anxiety; however, this body of literature is limited, and findings have been inconsistent. Even among those studies suggesting that such a relationship does exist, a consideration of mechanisms that might explain the process of intergenerational transmission of trauma effects has been largely absent. The current study aimed to explore the relationship between maternal exposure to trauma and child anxiety and to investigate two potential mediators of this relationship: parenting quality and child cortisol levels. By identifying mediators that might be involved in the intergenerational effects of maternal trauma exposure, we hoped to better understand points in the development of child anxiety that might be promising for prevention and intervention purposes. These aims were examined within a sample of 153 mother-child dyads who participated in a longitudinal study assessing maternal trauma history, parenting, and child cortisol reactivity at preschool age (ages 2.5 to 5.5 years) and maternal and secondary caregiver reports of child anxiety at school age (ages 6 to 10 years). We hypothesized that (1) maternal exposure to trauma would be positively associated with anxiety levels in offspring, and that (2) parenting quality and child cortisol reactivity would mediate the relationship between maternal exposure to trauma and child anxiety. Maternal exposure to trauma was found to be significantly related to child anxiety. Parenting, but not cortisol reactivity, was found to mediate this relationship. It was also found that type, timing, and cumulative trauma exposures might be differentially related to parenting, cortisol reactivity, and child anxiety outcomes. Clinical and research implications of these findings are discussed.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

Method. 12

Statistical Approach. 20

Results. 21

Discussion. 29

References. 41

Tables. 52

Table 1: Pattern matrix component of parenting behaviors. 52

Table 2: Descriptions of coded parenting behaviors. 53

Table 3: Covariates for each proposed mediator or outcome variable. 54

Table 4: Trauma variables: Sample characteristics. 55

Table 5: Descriptive statistics for variables of interest. 56

Table 6: Zero-Order correlations between variables of interest. 57

Table 7: Results for maternal trauma exposure predicting child anxiety levels. 58

Table 8: Cortisol reactivity indirect effects analysis. 59

Table 9: Positive engagement indirect effects analyses. 60

Table 10: Negative engagement indirect effects analyses. 61

Table 11: Positive reinforcement indirect effects analyses. 62

About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files