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Attitudes towards children: Distinguishing affection and stress

Wolf, Lukas J., Costin, Vlad, Iosifyan, Marina, Thorne, Sapphira R., Nolan, Alexander, Foad, Colin ORCID:, Webb, Elspeth, Karremans, Johan, Haddock, Geoffrey ORCID: and Maio, Gregory R. 2024. Attitudes towards children: Distinguishing affection and stress. Journal of Personality 92 (2) , pp. 601-619. 10.1111/jopy.12854

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Background: Adults' views and behaviors toward children can vary from being supportive to shockingly abusive, and there are significant unanswered questions about the psychological factors underpinning this variability. Objective: The present research examined the content of adults' attitudes toward children to address these questions. Method: Ten studies (N = 4702) identified the factor structure of adults' descriptions of babies, toddlers, and school-age children and examined how the resulting factors related to a range of external variables. Results: Two factors emerged—affection toward children and stress elicited by them—and this factor structure was invariant across the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Africa. Affection uniquely captures emotional approach tendencies, concern for others, and broad positivity in evaluations, experiences, motivations, and donation behavior. Stress relates to emotional instability, emotional avoidance, and concern about disruptions to a self-oriented, structured life. The factors also predict distinct experiences in a challenging situation—home-parenting during COVID-19 lockdown—with affection explaining greater enjoyment and stress explaining greater perceived difficulty. Affection further predicts mentally visualizing children as pleasant and confident, whereas stress predicts mentally visualizing children as less innocent. Conclusions: These findings offer fundamental new insights about social cognitive processes in adults that impact adult–child relationships and children's well-being.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 0022-3506
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 22 May 2023
Date of Acceptance: 21 May 2023
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2024 13:46

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