The Word Game: An innovative strategy for assessing implicit processes in parents at risk for child physical abuse

Julie L. Crouch, Lauren M. Irwin, Brett M. Wells, Christopher R. Shelton, John J. Skowronski, Joel S. Milner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Objective: Contemporary theories of child physical abuse (CPA) emphasize the proximal role of social cognitive processes (many of which are implicit in nature) in the occurrence of parental aggression. However, methods that allow for the systematic examination of implicit cognitive processes during the course of aggressive interactions are needed. To address this need, the present study was designed to examine the utility of the Word Game, an innovative procedure designed to assess implicit changes in schema accessibility during the course of an interpersonal exchange involving aggressive response options. Methods: The game involves a series of competitive reaction time trials which are actually lexical decision making trials designed to determine the accessibility of schema throughout the game. Each parent was led to believe that they were competing against another player with whom they exchanged sound blasts of varying intensities. Participants in the present study were parents who were either low (n=50) or high (n=20) risk for CPA. Results: Results revealed that high CPA risk parents behaved more aggressively than low CPA risk parents and that provocation augmented the aggressiveness of all participants. Among high CPA risk parents, positive schema became less accessible (whereas negative schema became more accessible) following lost rounds. At the conclusion of the game, high CPA risk parents reported more aggressive motives than low CPA risk parents. Further, aggressive motives significantly mediated the association between CPA risk status and aggressiveness (i.e., mean sound blast selections). Conclusions: Collectively, results support the potential utility of the Word Game as a means of advancing the study of social cognitive processes involved in parental aggression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)498-509
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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