Predictors of Maternal Sensitivity to Infant Distress

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Esther M. Leerkes, Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Objective- The present study was designed to examine the extent to which mothers’ emotional (i.e., empathy, negative emotions) and cognitive (i.e., accurate detection of distress, goals about infant crying, and emotion efficacy) responses to infant distress are related to maternal sensitivity in tasks designed to elicit infant distress. The author assessed mothers’ emotional and cognitive responses to distress both prenatally in response to unfamiliar infants and postnatally in response to own infant. Also, the author examined the extent to which pre- and postnatal measures correlated with one another and with sensitivity to distress. Design- The author interviewed 101 mothers prenatally about their responses to videotapes of crying infants, then videotaped mothers interacting with their own infants at 6-months postpartum in 2 emotionally arousing tasks during which maternal sensitivity and infant distress were rated, and subsequently interviewed mothers about their thoughts and feelings during the emotionally arousing tasks using a video-recall procedure. Results- Mothers’ pre- and postnatal goals in relation to infant distress and emotional reactions to infant distress were the most consistent predictors of sensitivity, but prenatal accurate detection of infant distress also predicted sensitivity. Furthermore, mothers’ goals, emotional reactions to crying, and accurate distress detection buffered maternal sensitivity from the negative effect of observed infant distress. That is, infant distress was less strongly negatively associated with sensitivity when mothers had more infant-oriented goals, reported fewer negative emotions in response to infant crying, or were skilled at detecting infant distress. Conclusions- Assessing mothers’ emotional and cognitive responses to infant distress provides insights into the origins of sensitivity to infant distress. The author discusses methodological issues relevant to assessing mothers’ emotional and cognitive responses to infant distress.

Additional Information

Parenting: Science and Practice, 10(3), 219-239
Language: English
Date: 2010
mother-toddler interaction, self-efficacy, negative emotionality, irritable infants, child abuse

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