Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Dr. Barbara J. Myers


Children whose mothers go to prison are at high risk for poor outcomes of many kinds,including externalizing behaviors, internalizing disorders, school dropout, and eventual criminal activity. Inhibitory control, moral emotions, emotion regulation, and stressful life events were examined as predictors of externalizing and internalizing behaviors in children of incarcerated mothers. Participants were 50 children age 6 to 12 years (M = 9.77 y, SD = 1.54) with mothers currently in prison who attended a faith-based recreational summer camp. Inhibitory control was not impaired in these children, showing that their brains were functioning appropriately in this area of executive functioning. Inhibitory control did not impact emotion regulation as is usually seen, however. As expected, though, poor emotion regulation predicted both internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Lower levels of guilt (a healthy moral emotion) and higher levels of blame (an unhealthy denial of responsibility) predicted externalizing behaviors, while higher levels of shame (an unhealthy self-deprecation) predicted internalizing behaviors. A lower level of guilt also predicted the presence of callous/unemotional traits. Almost half the children experienced four or more life stressors within the past year; stressors predicted feelings of sadness and anxiety as opposed to externalizing problems, and not problems with emotion regulation. Results indicated that children who experienced the incarceration of their mothers have the cognitive and moral tools with which to regulate their emotions, but they do not always use these tools. Poor emotion regulation puts children at risk of difficulties ranging from psychopathy to long-lasting peer and relationship problems. One possibility is that their behaviors are learned and purposeful; perhaps their home and neighborhood environments modeled and reinforced out-of-control behavior. Suggestions for interventions include increasing the understanding of the impact of emotional self-understanding on self-control and behaviors, using strategies that employ both a cognitive and moral focus.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008

Included in

Psychology Commons