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There is considerable evidence that maternal postnatal psychiatric disorder has an adverse influence on infant development. In attempting to examine the pathways of intergenerational transmission, most research has concentrated on genetic factors or on maternal behaviours during mother-child interaction and attachment. However, researchers have largely ignored the possible role of maternal cognition underlying behaviour, especially the thought and attentional processes involved in psychiatric disorders. This paper argues that a particular form of maternal cognition, namely 'preoccupation', is one key, but under-recognised, mechanism in the transmission of psychiatric disturbance. We propose that preoccupation interferes with specific aspects of mental functioning, especially attention and responsivity to the environment. This impairs the mother's parenting capacities and adversely affects mother-child interaction and child development.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





11 - 21


Child, Child Development, Child of Impaired Parents, Developmental Disabilities, Humans, Infant, Mental Disorders, Mother-Child Relations, Mothers, Parturition