Maternal physiological dysregulation while parenting poses risk for infant attachment disorganization and behavior problems

Esther M. Leerkes, Jinni Su, Susan D. Calkins, Marion O'Brien, Andrew J. Supple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

The extent to which indices of maternal physiological arousal (skin conductance augmentation) and regulation (vagal withdrawal) while parenting predict infant attachment disorganization and behavior problems directly or indirectly via maternal sensitivity was examined in a sample of 259 mothers and their infants. Two covariates, maternal self-reported emotional risk and Adult Attachment Interview attachment coherence were assessed prenatally. Mothers' physiological arousal and regulation were measured during parenting tasks when infants were 6 months old. Maternal sensitivity was observed during distress-eliciting tasks when infants were 6 and 14 months old, and an average sensitivity score was calculated. Attachment disorganization was observed during the Strange Situation when infants were 14 months old, and mothers reported on infants' behavior problems when infants were 27 months old. Over and above covariates, mothers' arousal and regulation while parenting interacted to predict infant attachment disorganization and behavior problems such that maternal arousal was associated with higher attachment disorganization and behavior problems when maternal regulation was low but not when maternal regulation was high. This effect was direct and not explained by maternal sensitivity. The results suggest that maternal physiological dysregulation while parenting places infants at risk for psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-257
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Volume29
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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