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Protective factors that buffer against the intergenerational transmission of trauma from mothers to young children: A replication study of angels in the nursery

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 February 2019

Angela J. Narayan*
Department of Psychology, University of Denver Department of Psychiatry and Child Trauma Research Program, University of California, San Francisco
Chandra Ghosh Ippen
Department of Psychiatry and Child Trauma Research Program, University of California, San Francisco
William W. Harris
Children's Research and Education Institute, New York City
Alicia F. Lieberman
Department of Psychiatry and Child Trauma Research Program, University of California, San Francisco
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Angela Narayan, University of Denver, Department of Psychology, 2155 S. Race St., Denver, CO 80208; E-mail:


This replication study examined protective effects of positive childhood memories with caregivers (“angels in the nursery”) against lifespan and intergenerational transmission of trauma. More positive, elaborated angel memories were hypothesized to buffer associations between mothers’ childhood maltreatment and their adulthood posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression symptoms, comorbid psychopathology, and children's trauma exposure. Participants were 185 mothers (M age = 30.67 years, SD = 6.44, range = 17–46 years, 54.6% Latina, 17.8% White, 10.3% African American, 17.3% other; 24% Spanish speaking) and children (M age = 42.51 months; SD = 15.95, range = 3–72 months; 51.4% male). Mothers completed the Angels in the Nursery Interview (Van Horn, Lieberman, & Harris, 2008), and assessments of childhood maltreatment, adulthood psychopathology, children's trauma exposure, and demographics. Angel memories significantly moderated associations between maltreatment and PTSD (but not depression) symptoms, comorbid psychopathology, and children's trauma exposure. For mothers with less positive, elaborated angel memories, higher levels of maltreatment predicted higher levels of psychopathology and children's trauma exposure. For mothers with more positive, elaborated memories, however, predictive associations were not significant, reflecting protective effects. Furthermore, protective effects against children's trauma exposure were significant only for female children, suggesting that angel memories may specifically buffer against intergenerational trauma from mothers to daughters.

Special Section Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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This study honors the memory of Patricia Van Horn, who was an original developer of the Angels in the Nursery Interview. We also thank the participating mothers who shared their angel memories with us, and their children who took part in this study.


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