Cognitive and emotional differences between abusive and non-abusive fathers

  • Francis K
  • Wolfe D
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Objective: Abusive fathers perpetrate a substantial portion of child physical abuse. Despite this, little is known about how they differ from non-abusive fathers. This study compared a broad range of cognitive and affective factors between physically abusive and non-abusive fathers. Methods: Abusive (n = 24) and non-abusive (n = 25) fathers completed standard measures assessing their experience and expression of anger, mental health, parenting stress, and their empathy and perceptions of children's socio-emotional signals. Results: Abusive fathers differed from comparisons on almost all constructs. They experienced more anger and were more likely to express that anger aggressively. They reported more mental health concerns (such as depression, hostility, and paranoid ideation), more stress in parenting, and significantly less empathy for their children. They were also more likely to perceive children's emotional expressions as depicting negative emotions, such as anger and disgust. Conclusions: Abusive fathers struggle with a myriad of difficulties that likely contribute to their problematic parenting. These difficulties are both inter- and intra-personal in nature. Practice implications: The findings suggest that abusive fathers require comprehensive assessment that includes mental health screening. Interventions should be selected carefully to target abusive fathers' high levels of negative affect and negative perceptions. Treatment strategies should address problems related to parenting style (e.g., managing stress and interpretation of children's socioemotional signals) as well as their personal adjustment (e.g., cognitive behavioral strategies for regulating affect and cognitive distortions). © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Abusive fathers
  • Abusive parents
  • Child abuse
  • Child maltreatment
  • Fathers

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  • Karen J. Francis

  • David A. Wolfe

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