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Maternal elaborative reminiscing mediates the effect of child maltreatment on behavioral and physiological functioning

  • Kristin Valentino (a1), Leah C. Hibel (a2), E. Mark Cummings (a1), Amy K. Nuttall (a1), Michelle Comas (a1) and Christina G. McDonnell (a1)...


Theoretical and empirical evidence suggest that the way in which parents discuss everyday emotional experiences with their young children (i.e., elaborative reminiscing) has significant implications for child cognitive and socioemotional functioning, and that maltreating parents have a particularly difficult time in engaging in this type of dialogue. This dyadic interactional exchange, therefore, has the potential to be an important process variable linking child maltreatment to developmental outcomes at multiple levels of analysis. The current investigation evaluated the role of maternal elaborative reminiscing in associations between maltreatment and child cognitive, emotional, and physiological functioning. Participants included 43 maltreated and 49 nonmaltreated children (aged 3–6) and their mothers. Dyads participated in a joint reminiscing task about four past emotional events, and children participated in assessments of receptive language and emotion knowledge. Child salivary cortisol was also collected from children three times a day (waking, midday, and bedtime) on 2 consecutive days to assess daily levels and diurnal decline. Results indicated that maltreating mothers engaged in significantly less elaborative reminiscing than did nonmaltreating mothers. Maternal elaborative reminiscing mediated associations between child maltreatment and child receptive language and child emotion knowledge. In addition, there was support for an indirect pathway between child maltreatment and child cortisol diurnal decline through maternal elaborative reminiscing. Directions for future research are discussed, and potential clinical implications are addressed.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kristin Valentino, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, 128 Haggar Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556; E-mail:


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