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Multigenerational links between mothers' experiences of autonomy in childhood and preschoolers' respiratory sinus arrhythmia: Variations by maltreatment status

  • Laura K. Noll (a1), Caron A. C. Clark (a1) and Elizabeth A. Skowron (a1)


Despite burgeoning evidence linking early exposure to child maltreatment (CM) to deficits in self-regulation, the pathways to strong regulatory development in these children are not well understood, and significant heterogeneity is observed in their outcomes. Experiences of autonomy may play a key role in transmitting self-regulatory capacity across generations and help explain individual differences in maltreatment outcomes. In this study, we investigated multigenerational associations between Generation 1 (G1)–Generation 2 (G2) mothers' early experience of warmth and autonomy in relation to their own mothers and their Generation 3 (G3) children's autonomic physiological regulation in CM (n = 85) and non-CM (n = 128) families. We found that G2 mothers who recalled greater autonomy in their childhood relationship with their G1 mothers had preschool-age G3 children with higher respiratory sinus arrhythmia at baseline when alone while engaged in individual challenge tasks, during social exchanges with their mother in joint challenge tasks, and during the portions of the strange situation procedure when the mother was present. Although no clear mediators of this association emerged, multigenerational links among G1–G2 relations, maternal representations of her child, child behavior, and child respiratory sinus arrhythmia differed by maltreatment status, thus possibly representing important targets for future research and intervention.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Elizabeth Skowron, Department of Counseling Psychology & Human Services, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403. E-mail:


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Multigenerational links between mothers' experiences of autonomy in childhood and preschoolers' respiratory sinus arrhythmia: Variations by maltreatment status

  • Laura K. Noll (a1), Caron A. C. Clark (a1) and Elizabeth A. Skowron (a1)


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