Reading between the lines: Implicit assessment of the association of parental attributions and empathy with abuse risk

Academic Article


  • Objective: Researchers in the child maltreatment field have traditionally relied on explicit self-reports to study factors that may exacerbate physical child abuse risk. The current investigation evaluated an implicit analog task utilizing eye tracking technology to assess both parental attributions of child misbehavior and empathy. Method: Based on the observation that readers experience comprehension difficulty when encountering passages inconsistent with their beliefs, an eye tracker gauged the extent of difficulty parents experienced reading vignettes that inappropriately characterized a child as culpable for misbehavior and that presented a non-empathic child interaction. Results: Results suggest self-reports of attributions and empathy are related to both child abuse potential and discipline intentions; however, the eye tracking analog for empathy correlated with abuse potential but not punishment decisions whereas the analog for attributions correlated with punishment decisions but not abuse potential. Conclusions: Such contrasts between self-report and analog assessment underscore the need for continued research studying theorized abuse risk constructs using alternative approaches to better identify the important risk markers associated with elevated child abuse risk and to minimize methodological overlap. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Rodriguez CM; Cook AE; Jedrziewski CT
  • Start Page

  • 564
  • End Page

  • 571
  • Volume

  • 36
  • Issue

  • 7-8