Executive function and mothering: Challenges faced by teenage mothers
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Previous research has established that in comparison to adult mothers teen mothers respond less sensitively to their infants. In adults, components of executive functions relate directly to maternal sensitivity. Since teenagers are known to have a less developed prefrontal cortex and greater difficulties in parenting, this study sought to determine whether the association between executive processes and mothering exists among teenagers. Two groups of mothers, teens (n = 30) and adults (n = 27), who were approximately 4-6 months postpartum, completed tasks assessing spatial working memory and attentional set shifting (cognitive flexibility) using the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery. Mothers were videotaped interacting with their infants and were later coded for various maternal behaviors. As predicted, teenagers performed more poorly than adults on tasks of cognitive flexibility and were less sensitive in their infant interactions. Among both groups there was a negative association between executive function and mothering; however, depending on the age of the mother different executive function tasks were relevant.
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