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Linked lives: the role of the mother in the intergenerational transmission of aggression and antisocial behaviour

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
The current dissertation examines the role of the mother in the intergenerational transmission of aggression and antisocial behaviour. More specifically, the link between maternal juvenile delinquency, adult offending, and the development of children’s physical aggression in the early childhood period is investigated. This dissertation adopts a life-course framework to explore two particularly important life experiences that are especially relevant for many women: pregnancy and motherhood. Considering the negative adult outcomes that many female juvenile delinquents experience (e.g., social adversity, substance abuse, mental health problems), risky maternal behaviours during pregnancy, and difficulties with parenting are examined as potential mechanisms underlying the intergenerational transmission of antisocial behaviour. This dissertation consists of three distinct, yet related empirical studies based on a sample of mothers and their preschool children. The sample is drawn from the Vancouver Longitudinal Study on the Psychosocial Development of Children. Study I of this dissertation explored how mothers with a history of juvenile delinquency experience pregnancy. It was found that they are more likely to use substances while pregnant, and their children are more likely to be physically aggressive. Study II examined specific patterns of maternal parenting practices. It was found that these practices are linked with maternal adult offending, mental health problems (e.g., depressive and anxious symptoms), cultural background (non-Caucasian ethnicity), and children’s aggression. Study III focused on the persistence of children’s physical aggression during the preschool years, and found that maternal criminogenic, mental health and parenting factors are related to the development of children’s aggression. Importantly, cultural differences were found when comparing the predictors of children’s aggression for mothers born in North America and those born elsewhere. Taken together, the three studies suggest that there is significant intergenerational transmission of aggression and antisocial behaviour from mother to child, and it emerges from the earliest developmental periods. Moreover, important cultural differences were identified, which have several implications for policy and treatment.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Burtch, Brian
Thesis advisor: Lussier, Patrick
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