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There is now considerable evidence that anxiety disorders aggregate in families. Whilst genetic heritability plays a part, environmental factors are another factor explaining this aggregation. However, little is known about the cognitive mechanisms involved. This study examined maternal attentional focus as a possible mechanism in a community sample of mothers of young infants, using an ambiguous scenarios paradigm. In particular, we examined whether more anxious mothers were more likely to interpret everyday scenarios concerning their young children as more threatening and whether this affected their predictions of their own reactions to the situations. Anxiety scores were associated with a greater likelihood of anxious interpretation in first-time mothers but not in the whole sample. Mothers who scored higher on state and trait anxiety were found to perceive ambiguous scenarios involving infants as more threatening than mothers scoring lower on anxiety and were more likely to indicate that they would seek external reassurance. These relationships were stronger when data were only analysed for the sub-group of first-time mothers. This suggests that anxious interpretations by the mother may ultimately influence the child's assessment of and response to threat. However, direct observational research is needed to examine this issue. © 2007 British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies.

Original publication




Journal article


Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Publication Date





495 - 500