Parents’ experiences of childhood abuse and neglect are differentially associated with behavioral and autonomic responses to their offspring

Renate S.M. Buisman*, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Katharina Pittner, Laura H.C.G. Compier-de Block, Lisa J.M. van den Berg, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Marieke S. Tollenaar, Bernet M. Elzinga, Jolanda Lindenberg, Lenneke R.A. Alink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although childhood maltreatment has been shown to compromise adaptive parental behavior, little is known what happens in terms of physiological regulation when parents with a history of childhood maltreatment interact with their offspring. Using a sample of 229 parents (131 women), the present study examined whether childhood maltreatment experiences are associated with parents’ behavioral and autonomic responses while resolving conflict with their offspring. Self-reported experienced child maltreatment was measured using a questionnaire assessing abuse and neglect. Parents (Mage = 52.7 years, rangeage = 26.6–88.4 years) and their offspring (Mage = 24.6 years, rangeage = 7.5–65.6 years) participated in a videotaped parent–offspring conflict interaction task. Parental warmth, negativity, and emotional support were coded. In addition, their pre-ejection period and respiratory sinus arrhythmia were measured as indicators of underlying sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system reactivity, respectively. Findings demonstrated that experiences of abuse and neglect were associated with behavioral and physiological responses in different ways. Separating these two types of maltreatment in research and in clinical practice might be important.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888-902
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number6
Early online date6 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


We are grateful to all the families that have invested their time by participating in this study and to the students whose contribution to the data collection was invaluable. The study was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (MB: VICI grant (no. 453‐09‐003); LA: VIDI grant (no. 016.145.360); MvIJ: NWO SPINOZA prize) and grants of Leiden University to initiate and support the Research Profile Area Health, Prevention and the Human Life Cycle awarded to MvIJ.

FundersFunder number
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research453-09-003, 016.145.360
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme669249
Universiteit Leiden
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek


    • childhood maltreatment
    • parenting behavior
    • physiological reactivity
    • pre-ejection period
    • respiratory sinus arrhythmia


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