Maternal sensitivity and physiological processes as predictors of infant emotion regulation

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Nicole Elizabeth Brown Perry (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Susan Calkins

Abstract: The current study examined the way in which regulatory processes of the central and parasympathetic nervous system are associated with one another, and linked to behavioral regulation, during both mild and moderate frustration. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of emotion regulation and the process through which it develops, the current study also examined the associations between maternal sensitivity and infants' physiological and behavioral regulation, in addition to assessing the influence of maternal sensitivity on the development of infants' physiological and behavioral regulation across early infancy. Finally, the current study assessed whether physiological regulation was a mediating mechanism through which maternal sensitivity was associated with infant's behavioral regulation. Results demonstrated that vagal withdrawal and EEG activation were only associated at 10 months during mild frustration; as vagal withdrawal increased EEG activation also increased indicating more active processing in the right hemisphere. This positive association suggests that by 10 months of age, when infants encounter a frustrating situation that is at least moderate in intensity, cortical and autonomic processes respond in similar ways. At 5 months, there was a negative association between vagal withdrawal and observed distraction during mild frustration and a positive association during moderate frustration. This inconsistent pattern suggests that the mildly frustrating task may have been more interesting than frustrating for 5 month-old infants. EEG activation at 5 months was not associated with any observed regulatory behaviors during mild or moderate frustration, but was associated positively with mother reported infant regulation; this positive association conveys that infants who increased in active right frontal processing from baseline to task were also likely to be reported by their mothers as better able to recover from peak distress, excitement, or general arousal. During moderate frustration at 10 months, EEG activation and vagal withdrawal were associated positively with infant's mother orientation behaviors and associated negatively with infant's distraction behaviors; this suggests that 10 month-old infants thought to be better physiologically regulated may use more co-regulatory strategies when engaging in an novel and intense frustration task rather than employing more independent self-regulatory strategies. Maternal sensitivity at 5 months was associated with increases in vagal withdrawal during moderate frustration from 5 to 10 months but was not associated with increases in EEG activation or behavioral regulation from 5 to 10 months. It is possible maternal sensitivity at 5 months may help infants' manage physiological arousal in a way that facilitates greater myelination of vagal fibers and subsequently greater vagal regulation from 5 to 10 months. No indirect effects were found for maternal sensitivity on behavioral regulation via infant's physiological regulation.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Central nervous system, Parasympathetic nervous system, Maternal sensitivity, Infant's behavioral regulation
Mother and infant
Emotions in infants $x Physiological aspects

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