Mothers' vagal regulation during the Still-Face Paradigm: normative reactivity and impact of depression symptoms.

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This study examined mothers' physiological reactivity in response to infant distress during the Still-Face Paradigm. We aimed to explore normative regulatory profiles and associated physiological and behavioral processes in order to further our understanding of what constitutes regulation in this dyadic context. We examined physiological patterns--vagal tone, indexed by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)--while mothers maintained a neutral expression over the course of the still face episode, as well as differential reactivity patterns in mothers with depression symptoms compared to non-depressed mothers. Behavioral and physiological data were collected from mothers of 5-month-old infants during the emotion suppression phase of the Still-Face Paradigm. We used Hierarchical Linear Modeling to examine changes in mothers' RSA during infant distress and explored maternal depression as a predictor of physiological profiles. Mothers were generally able to maintain a neutral expression and simultaneously demonstrated a mean-level increase in RSA during the still face episode compared to baseline, indicating an active regulatory response overall. A more detailed time-course examination of RSA trajectories revealed that an initial RSA increase was typically followed by a decrease in response to peak infant distress, suggesting a physiological mobilization response. However, this was not true of mothers with elevated depressive symptoms, who showed no change in RSA during infant distress. These distinct patterns of infant distress-related physiological activation may help to explain differences in maternal sensitivity and adaptive parenting.

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Infant Behav Dev







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