How sweet it is to be loved by you: Examining the psychometric properties of a novel tool for assessing parent-to-child warmth and affection (Warmth/Affection Coding System)

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Embargoed until 2024-03-10
Copyright: Prasad, Ashneeta
Parental warmth/affection (e.g., terms of endearment, physical affection) is an essential component of healthy, securely attached parent-child relationships. Strong parent-child relationships serve as buffers against psychosocial stressors and facilitate healthy empathy development in children. In particular, warmth/affection is thought to promote affective empathy development (i.e., being able to feel what others feel) via the modelling of emotional expressions and prosocial behaviour. Lower levels of parental warmth have been linked with a host of negative outcomes for children and in some cases contribute to the development and worsening of severe psychopathology (e.g., Conduct Problems with co-occurring Callous-Unemotional traits in children). Given these outcomes, parental warmth/affection is increasingly being incorporated as a treatment target among emerging interventions. It is therefore critical that there are reliable and valid ways to measure warmth/affection. However, the availability of comprehensive and ecologically valid methods that are designed for in-vivo clinical use are limited. The Warmth/Affection Coding System (WACS) was explicitly developed to have clinical utility as a novel observational coding system to assess both verbal and non-verbal warmth/affection in real time. The present study sought to establish the preliminary reliability and validity of the WACS in a sample of 172 mothers and their young children (M = 3.7 years, SD = 1.23) referred for externalising problems to two outpatient clinics in Sydney, Australia. This program of research: i) provides a conceptual overview of warmth/affection and limitations of current assessment approaches (Part I), ii) chronicles the development and refinement of the WACS (Part II), and iii) outlines the preliminary reliability and validity of this coding system (Part III). Results provided support for the reliability of WACS scores and adds to the few existing coding systems that capture both microsocial and global assessments of verbal and non-verbal warmth/affection. The validity of non-verbal WACS scores was supported, while verbal WACS scores largely did not correlate as expected with other measures. These findings have implications for advancing methods for assessing parental warmth/affection and provide an important first step in establishing the preliminary reliability and validity of the WACS. Future directions for the refinement of the WACS are also discussed.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty