Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


The Role of Parental Self-efficacy and Parental Knowledge in Parent-Infant Interactions and Infant Behavior during the Transition to Parenthood

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Annette Mahoney, Ph.D. (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Alfred DeMaris, Ph.D. (Committee Chair)

Third Advisor

Marie Tisak, Ph.D. (Committee Chair)

Fourth Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett, Ph.D. (Committee Chair)


Only two studies in the parenting literature have simultaneously considered the effects of both parental self-efficacy and parental knowledge on parenting behaviors. Both studies found a significant interaction effect between maternal knowledge and maternal self-efficacy in predicting the quality of parent-infant interactions. The current study attempted to extend this line of research by assessing both mothers and fathers from the same 164 families, replicating findings when the infant was both 6 and 12 months, and using both observational and self-report data. Parents completed both self-report measures on parental self-efficacy and parental knowledge of development, and were observed in 10 minute interactions with their infant at both 6 and 12 months to assess parenting behaviors. For mothers, greater maternal knowledge of child development was related to observations of greater maternal sensitivity and less intrusiveness during parent-infant interactions when the infant was 6 months old after controlling for infant temperament, parental age and education, and other demographic factors. This pattern of observational findings did not emerge for mothers when infants were 12 months old, nor did this finding emerge for fathers at either 6 or 12 months. Greater maternal self-efficacy was correlated with lower parental reports (mother and father combined) of maternal hostility towards the infant when the infant was 6 and 12 months. Greater paternal self-efficacy was also found to be correlated with lower paternal hostility at both 6 and 12 months. Greater parental self-efficacy was uniquely related to increased parental reports of over protective behaviors in the home by fathers when infants were both 6 and 12 months and by mothers when infants were 12 months. For both mothers and fathers, difficulty of infant temperament was uniquely related to increased intrusively hostile behavior exhibited towards their infant at both 6 and 12 months. The results of this study were contrary to previous findings in that no interaction effect between parental knowledge and parental self-efficacy was found to predict parenting behavior. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.