Psychology ETDs


Peggy Maclean

Publication Date



Research suggests that mothers of children born preterm are at high risk of perceiving their children as vulnerable even long after their childrens health has improved. Although studies have examined the prevalence of maternal perception of child vulnerability within children born preterm, few studies have examined the relationship between maternal perception of child vulnerability and observed maternal behaviors, and the contextual factors associated with perceived vulnerability. The current study sought to examine the relationship between perceived vulnerability and observed maternal behavior (i.e., maternal overprotection, maternal hostility, and maternal responsiveness); clarify the relative role of health-related variables (i.e., neonatal illness severity, post-neonatal health factors, functional health impairment) in maternal perception of child vulnerability, and (3) examine the relative importance of a comprehensive range of contextual variables including neonatal illness severity, post-neonatal health, functional health impairment, socio-demographic, and maternal psychosocial health factors in maternal perception of child vulnerability in a sample of preschoolers born very low birth weight (N=54). Results indicated that maternal perception of child vulnerability was not significantly associated with observed maternal overprotection, maternal hostility, and maternal responsiveness during mother-child interactions. Results also indicated that with regard to health-related variables, child rehospitalization was most strongly associated with perceived vulnerability. When examining all contextual factors together, maternal depressive symptoms were most strongly related to perceived vulnerability, followed by child rehospitalization. As a group, maternal psychosocial health factors accounted for the most variance in perceived vulnerability, followed by post-neonatal health factors. Together these findings provide a better understanding of maternal perception of child vulnerabilty in children born preterm and highlight the need for longitudinal study designs, larger samples, and comprehensive multimethod assessments of child current health in future studies examining perceived vulnerability.

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First Advisor

Erickson, Sarah

First Committee Member (Chair)

Lowe, Jean

Second Committee Member

Witherington, David

Third Committee Member

Goldsmith, Timothy




Premature infants--Care--Psychological aspects, Preschool children--Care--Psychological aspects, Mother and infant, Mothers--Psychology.

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