Category: Child / Adolescent - Externalizing
Studies consistently detect a link between children’s hostile attribution of intent (HAI) biases about peers, and their externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggression and rule-breaking; Orobio de Castro et al., 2002; Burt et al., 2009). A smaller literature has shown that HAI biases about mothers relate to externalizing behaviors during mother-child interactions. Across studies, children who had more intense HAI biases regarding maternal intent were more coercive, more argumentative, and made more negative comments toward their mothers than children with less intense biases (Grace et al., 1993; MacKinnon-Lewis et al., 2001). While research points to a link between HAI biases toward mothers and mother-child hostility, associations between child HAI biases about maternal intentions and their aggression and rule-breaking are less clear. There is some evidence that HAI biases toward peers (Aber et al., 2003) and self-reported aggression and rule-breaking vary by race/ethnicity (McLoughlin et al., 2007), with Black youths more likely to demonstrate HAI biases and endorse externalizing behavior. It is possible that youths from groups that are vulnerable to discrimination may view both themselves and others through negatively-oriented lenses, which may contribute to HAI biases (Coll et al., 1996; Brody et al., 2006). Race, however, has yet to be examined as a possible moderator of the relationship between HAI bias and externalizing behavior. The current study tested the hypothesis that self-reported race (White/Black) would moderate the relationships between HAI biases about mothers and preadolescent aggression and rule-breaking. Mother-child dyads (n = 268; 50% female; 57% White, 43% Black; M=12.61 years) completed the Youth Self-Report (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001) and the Child Attribution Measure (MacKinnon-Lewis et al., 1992). With socioeconomic status covaried, linear regression analyses revealed a significant main effect of HAI biases on rule-breaking (F(3, 264) = 2.30, p < .05), qualified by a significant interaction between race and HAI biases (R2Δ = .04, F(4, 263) = 2.97, p < .05). Unexpectedly, the relationship between HAI biases and rule-breaking was stronger for White than Black children. There was a significant main effect of HAI biases on aggressive behavior (F(3, 264) = 1.92, p < .05); however, the interaction between HAI biases and race was not significant. Findings suggest that HAI biases impact youth variably depending on their race and add to a growing literature examining the impact of racial identity on the cognition-behavior link. Clinicians and researchers should be mindful of the potential influence of race when designing and implementing interventions to target externalizing behavior.