Guest Lecturer Talks About Maternal Attitudes

Guest Lecturer Talks About Maternal Attitudes



As part of its search for a new professor, the psychology department has begun to invite interested candidates to speak at the college. One such lecturer is Laura Sockol, who is currently a research psychology professor at Davidson College. Sockol gave a short research talk, entitled “Maternal Attitudes as a Specific Risk Factor for Perinatal Depression and Anxiety,” on Tuesday Nov. 7, followed by a lecture Wednesday Nov. 8.

Sockol began her talk by describing some symptoms that women may experience after having a child, including “baby blues”, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and the rare postpartum psychosis.  She proceeded to discuss the importance of doing research on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders due to the variety of poor birth outcomes that could result. Scientists should think about the health of mothers and how their health may affect their children.

Sockol’s research mainly focuses on cognitive risk factors for first-time mothers that may lead to such perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.  These cognitive risk factors revolve around what she calls maternal attitudes: “beliefs an individual holds related to motherhood that contain an evaluative component.” An example Sockol gave of a a maladaptive maternal attitude was the notion a first-time mother may have that a good mother would not allow her baby to cry in public. This idea could cause a mother to believe that she was a bad parent if her baby did cry in public, and might lead to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in the long term.

Sockol proceeded to discuss her experimental goal, which consists of developing a valid and reliable measure of maternal attitudes, and the Attitudes Toward Motherhood Scale (AToM) that she and her team have established to get to that goal. Various studies have proved that this scale is a reliable and valid measure for determining maternal attitudes and the types of thought processes that are most likely to to result in some type of mood or anxiety disorder. The success of the scale implies that it could help to identify women who have maternal attitudes that are likely to lead to perinatal and anxiety disorders.  With this screening method, doctors and other health professionals would be able to target specific maternal attitudes and “re-shape” them to prevent poor outcomes.

At the end of her talk, Sockol discussed how fathers fit into this model.  She mentioned that first-time fathers actually have similar attitudes and beliefs to mothers in regards to how a perfect parent should act and treat their child, and that this finding could lead to the creation of an Attitudes Towards Fatherhood Scale in the future.  She also noted that she eventually wants to research how a father’s attitudes specifically interact, if at all, with a mother’s attitudes, or whether fathers’ attitudes on how mothers should behave somehow shape mothers’ attitudes.

One crucial limitation of her study that Sockol pointed out is that attitudes are created through experiences and life situations.  These experiences were variables that Sockol could not control in her study.  She alluded to previous studies, which found that women who were low-income racial minorities were especially at risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. These risk factors could easily interact with maternal attitudes or even cause the formation of certain maternal attitudes. The long term repercussions of these health inequalities  and other questions like that would likely be interesting directions in which to take this research in the future.