Assessing Angels in the Nursery: A Pilot Study of Childhood Memories of Benevolent Caregiving as Protective Influences

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences


Angels in the nursery, Benevolent caregiving, Childhood memories, Protective factors


This pilot study provides the first empirical test of the concept of 'Angels in the Nursery' by examining whether childhood memories of benevolent caregiving experiences protect against heightened levels of psychopathology in high-risk mothers. The study hypothesized that (a) elaborated childhood memories of feeling loved by a caregiver ('angel memories') would moderate adulthood posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in mothers with childhood maltreatment histories, and (b) spontaneous traumatic intrusions ('ghost memories') would mediate childhood maltreatment and adulthood PTSD symptoms. Participants were 54 mothers ( M = 32.79 years, SD = 8.91; 59.2% African American, 13.0% Caucasian, 5.6% Latina, 22.2% biracial/multiracial) who completed standardized assessments of childhood maltreatment and adulthood PTSD symptoms, and a novel instrument, the Angels in the Nursery Interview ('Angels Interview,' Van Horn, Lieberman, & Harris, 2008). Results showed that angel memories significantly moderated childhood maltreatment and adulthood PTSD symptoms, consistent with a protective effect. Higher levels of ghost memories during the Angels Interview were significantly associated with more extensive childhood maltreatment, but did not mediate maltreatment and PTSD symptoms. Findings indicate that the Angels Interview can identify pathogenic intrusions rooted in childhood maltreatment and protective factors to promote maternal mental health and buffer the intergenerational transmission of trauma.

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