Date of Award

8-2005

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Marie J. Hayes

Second Committee Member

Alan Cobo-Lewis

Third Committee Member

Jeffrey E. Hecker

Abstract

The present study was designed using a transactional theoretical model to investigate factors, both biological and environmental, that are potentially related to the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders in children. Research and theory have focused on the biological and environmental influences implicated in the development, maintenance, and stability of shyness in community samples of children. Much less is known about factors that influence the development and maintenance of more extreme forms of shyness, including social phobia, as well as other anxiety disorders. Participants were 30 male and female 8- to 12-year-old children and their parents (16 children met diagnostic criteria for at least one anxiety disorder; 14 children served as the comparison group and did not meet diagnostic criteria for any anxiety or mood disorder). Structured diagnostic interviews were administered to children and parents to assess for presence or absence of specific anxiety and mood disorders in both participants. Parent-child dyads were videotaped interacting during two 10-minute task conditions (i.e., play task and problem solving task). Verbal, nonverbal, and affective parent and child behaviors were coded for frequency using an atheoretical and mutually exclusive coding scheme. Parents completed questionnaires about their children's temperament (i.e., Middle Childhood Temperament Questionnaire) and social interaction patterns of their family (i.e., Family Environment Questionnaire-Parent). Children also completed questionnaires about their own levels of behavioral inhibition (i.e., Retrospective Self-Report of Inhibition) and perceived social interaction patterns of their family (i.e., Family Environment Questionnaire-Child). Parents of anxious children offered significantly less positive ontask assistance to their children during a mildly stressful problem solving task, and exhibited significantly more nonverbal directive gestures during a play task, compared to parents of children without an Axis I disorder. Parents of anxious children engaged in more conversation with their child during the play task, compared to parents of children in the comparison group. Similarly, anxious children engaged in more conversation about the play task than comparison children. On the Middle Childhood Temperament Questionnaire, children with anxiety disorders rated themselves as experiencing greater behavioral inhibition than children in the comparison group. Similarly, parents of anxious children rated their children as being significantly more inhibited than parents of comparison children. No group differences were found in family social interaction patterns. Parent-child interactions in anxious children show differences primarily in parental behavior which can be characterized as less supportive under mild stress. Further, anxious children and their parents were more aroused, as indicated by more conversation about the tasks, and more controlling, as indicated by more nonverbal directives during the play task than comparison dyads. Results provide support that parent-child dyadic interactions and lack of parenting sensitivity influence the maintenance of anxiety disorders in children, and emphasize regulatory processes of anxious children.

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