MATERNAL SENSITIVITY WITH THEIR INFANTS: THE ROLE OF EMOTION STATES, FATIGUE, AND INFANT ENGAGEMENT
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Early sensitive caregiver (typically mother)-infant interactions form an important foundation for infant development. When sensitive, mothers behave with the apparent goal to keep their infants happy and engaged. Mutual enjoyment is thought to motivate proximity and continued interactions. The main focus in the literature has been on the influence of stable/pathological maternal negative emotions on parenting, with parenting often assessed on one occasion, in an unnatural setting, or with a researcher present. The primary objective of this research was to explore what accounts for the variability in typical mothers’ sensitivity with their 15- to 28-week-old infants across interactions. Specific goals were to develop a novel methodology to increase the ecological validity and acceptability of assessments by having mothers themselves videotape their infant interactions in their homes, to explore the effect of mothers’ emotion states and fatigue on their ensuing sensitivity, and to evaluate if infant engagement determined whether mothers felt better (i.e., were reinforced) the more sensitively they behaved. A feasibility study was conducted with 9 mother-infant dyads, and a main study with an additional 40 dyads. Mothers completed a brief emotion and fatigue rating scale (Profile of Mood States – 15; Cranford et al., 2006) before and after each interaction, twice daily, over five to seven days. Interviews with feasibility study mothers indicated that most found the procedure acceptable, though not representative of their typical interactions. Little data were missing or uncodeable. Methodological changes are proposed to enhance the representativeness of observed interactions and to further minimize data loss. Contrary to predictions, pre-interaction emotion and fatigue states did not individually or jointly account for the significant within-subject variability in sensitivity across interactions. Mothers felt better after interacting and, the more sensitively they behaved, the more engaged their infants were, and the more positive mothers felt thereafter. However, infant engagement did not account for the relationship between sensitivity and how mothers then felt. Results suggest mothers can behave sensitively irrespective of how they feel; then, upon behaving sensitively, feel better regardless of their infants’ engagement. Interacting effects of maternal stress, cognitions, specific emotion behaviour relations, and methodology remain to be further investigated.