Parental cognitions in disciplinary situations, the role of self-serving bias

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Rees, Karen Leah
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Using Weiner's (1995)attribution model, the present study tested whether maternal causal assessments and responses to child misconduct would differ dependent on whether they were presented with misbehaviour committed by their own child or that of a hypothetical child. It was suspected that due to maternal perceived competence being threatened by their own child's misbehaviour, their assessment of their child's actions would likely reflect a self-serving bias. The sample was comprised of 54 mothers of preschoolers. Mothers were administered a Parental Disciplinary Beliefs Questionnaire (modelled after Scarr, Pinkerton, & Eisenberg's (1991) Parental Discipline Interview), which assessed their perceptions of maternal and child causality, responsibility, and control, child intentionality, maternal anger, and disciplinary strategy choice in response to each of five types of child misbehaviour. Each mother was randomly assigned to one of two groups. Mothers in the Own Child group were asked to respond as if the misbehaving child was their own; mothers in the Hypothetical Child group were asked to respond as if the misbehaving child was unknown to them. Mothers' perceptions of maternal causality and responsibility varied significantly with their relationship to the target child. However, no group differences were found on mothers' perceptions of child causality, child responsibility, maternal control, child control, or intentionality. Regardless of their relationship to the target child, most mothers claimed they would be angry with the child but would likely deal with the child through inductive methods of discipline. The findings partially support the notion of self-serving bias, but raise a number of theoretical questions regarding the meaning of control and the need for specificity in identifying inferred external causes.