Applying Socio-Emotional Information Processing Theory to Explain Child Abuse Risk: Emerging Patterns from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Academic Article


  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exerted profound effects on parents, which may translate into elevated child abuse risk. Prior literature demonstrates that Social Information Processing theory is a useful framework for understanding the cognitive processes that can contribute to parental abuse risk, but the model has not adequately integrated affective processes that may coincide with such cognitions. Given that parents are experiencing intense emotions during the pandemic, the current study sought to examine how socio-emotional processes might account for abuse risk during the pandemic (perceived pandemic-related increases in harsh parenting, reported physical and psychological aggression, and child abuse potential). A sample of 304 mothers participated in an online study, reporting on their abuse risk as well as a number of socio-emotional processes. Greater approval of physical discipline and weaker anger regulation abilities were directly or indirectly related to measures of abuse risk during the pandemic, with maternal justification to use parent-child aggression to ensure obedience consistently relating to all indicators of abuse risk during the pandemic. Socio-emotional processes that include anger appear particularly relevant during the heightened period of strain induced by the pandemic. By studying multiple factors simultaneously, the current findings can inform child abuse prevention efforts.

  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Rodriguez C; Lee S; Ward K