The role of maternal interactive behavior and gestational age in predicting infant affect during the Still-Face Paradigm

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BACKGROUND: Emotion regulation develops through bidirectional affective communication.

AIM: To investigate the role of maternal interactive behavior in predicting infant affect among preterm versus full-term infants.

STUDY DESIGN: The association between maternal interactive behavior (contingent, attention seeking, watching) and infant affect during a modified Still Face (SF) paradigm in a sample of 22 preterm and 28 full term infants (3 ½ - 4 ½ months old) was investigated.

METHODS: Maternal behavior and infant affect were coded in one second intervals.

RESULTS: Maternal contingent interaction was positively correlated with positive infant affect (p < 0.001 for Play; p < 0.001 for Reunion#1; p < 0.01 for Reunion#2, respectively), with a stronger association during the second reunion for preterm infants (p < 0.001). In the preterm sample but not in the full-term sample, attention seeking maternal interaction at Play (baseline), Reunion#1, and Reunion#2 were all positively correlated with negative infant affect at Still Face#2. Maternal watching was negatively associated with positive infant affect for the full sample for both Reunion episodes (p < 0.05). Full term infants' negative affect increased from baseline to the first SF episode and then plateaued, whereas preterm infants demonstrated greater negative affect and less recovery throughout. Mothers of full-term infants showed increased contingent responding after the first SF stressor, while mothers of preterm infants did not (p < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: Preterm infants may be more susceptible to both positive and negative maternal behaviors and mothers of full-term infants may be more responsive to infants' increased distress. Relationship-focused interventions addressing maternal behaviors may enhance positive emotionality and improve self-regulation in medically at-risk infants.

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Early human development





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