Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Bridget Cho

Second Advisor

Brianne Coulombe

Third Advisor

Maureen Carrigan


Exposure to adversity throughout the lifespan, including poverty, has been shown to influence parental sensitivity, or a caregiver’s ability to perceive, accurately interpret, and then respond appropriately to a child’s bids or behaviors. Given that adverse experiences can influence social cognition, it may be that hostile attribution bias (HAB, the tendency to interpret ambiguous social information as hostile), may be a mechanism accounting for the association between adversity exposure and parental behavior. The study aimed to contribute to the understanding of the determinants of sensitive parenting by evaluating the relationship between parents’ adversity (selfreported childhood, adulthood, and lifetime cumulative exposure to adversity, as well as poverty as indicated by income-to-needs ratio (INR)) and observed sensitive parenting as mediated by caregivers’ HAB. The present study extends previous research (Griffith et al., 2021) by sampling from an existing longitudinal project (N=147) utilizing a comprehensive retrospective self-report adversity measure, a standardized questionnaire measuring child-specific and general HAB, and observational coding data for caregiver sensitivity. Results from linear regressions found no causal relationships between caregiver childhood, adulthood, or lifetime cumulative adversity exposure frequency and caregiver sensitivity towards their preschool-aged children. However, INR came extremely close to predicting subsequent observed parental sensitivity (B = .476, p = .052, R2 = .024). Neither child-specific nor general HAB significantly mediated the relationship between INR and sensitivity. Other determinants of parenting behaviors, especially those related to financial security, appeared to have greater influence on parenting behaviors that other types of adversity exposure throughout the lifespan.