Interpretations of child compliance in individuals at high- and low-risk for child physical abuse

Cynthia A. Dopke*, Brad W. Lundahl, Emma Dunsterville, M. Christine Lovejoy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Objective: Our studies compared individuals at high- and low-risk for child physical abuse on measures of social information processing. Method: Two studies were conducted using similar methods. Twenty-eight childless women in Study 1 and 36 mothers in Study 2 read vignettes of parent-child interactions in which the child's level of compliance was difficult to interpret. Participants were asked a series of questions about the child's behavior and their own reactions. Results: Accuracy and bias in identifying compliant behavior were assessed using a signal detection paradigm. In both samples, high- and low-risk participants did not differ in their overall accuracy in identifying children's behaviors. However, they used different evaluation standards such that high-risk participants were biased toward seeing more noncompliance and low-risk participants were biased toward seeing more compliance. High- and low-risk participants also made different types of errors in interpreting children's behavior. Low-risk participants were more likely to misinterpret noncompliant behavior as compliant, and there was a trend for high-risk participants to not perceive compliant behavior when it occurred. There were no differences in reported disciplinary responses in either study and the results for affective reactions were mixed. Conclusions: Specific differences in social information processing between high- and low-risk individuals replicated across samples, suggesting a reliable association between evaluation standards and risk of child physical abuse. However, the absence of differences in reported discipline and inconsistent findings on affective reactions indicate the need to identify the mechanism through which cognition influences parenting behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-302
Number of pages18
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2003


  • Child abuse
  • Discipline
  • Interpretations
  • Noncompliance
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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