This application outlines the early steps in the development of a career research program focusing on parents of young children. Despite widespread acceptance that parenting is affectively organized and that parent emotional problems have deleterious effects on parent and child outcomes, little is known about in-the-moment affective processes that underlie caring for a young child. The absence of this information may contribute to inconsistent findings regarding the effectiveness of postpartum depression interventions, which seem to help a mother's symptoms but not necessarily her parenting or her child's development. Greater understanding of parental emotion may aid the design and efficacy of early interventions to improve parental emotion regulation and thus promote healthy child development. The proposed research training plan includes dissertation research using two methods of dynamic measurement of parent emotion: a behavioral method (Ecological Momentary Assessment) and a neurophysiological (EEG) method. Each allows the study of the time course of emotions in the parenting context, one at the level of a mother's awareness and the other at the level of instant neural motivational processes. I will learn to use multivariate time series analysis to make full use of these two rich data streams (e.g. unified structural equation modeling, vector autoregressive modeling) to address the following dissertation research aims: (1) To relate the time course of maternal emotion and coping in parenting challenges in their natural context to maternal depressive symptoms, and (2) To relate the time course of maternal neurophysiological response to infant distress (measured via EEG) to individual differences in time- related aspects of parental response - emotion stability and coping quality - at the behavioral level (measured via EMA) and to determine if together these account for significant variance in maternal depressive symptoms. Furthermore, the training plan includes guided development of a conceptualization of parental emotion as a dynamic process (i.e. focusing on its time course and unique context) that can be applied to future theoretical and empirical work and that should inform theoretical perspectives about parenting at-risk. It will serve as a foundation for future work in a career research program focused on understanding parent emotion in order to inform intervention for at-risk parent-child dyads.
Maternal depression, especially postpartum depression (i.e. within the first year post birth) is a major public health concern, for which current interventions do not consistently improve parenting or child outcomes. Using novel methods and analytic strategies, this study will examine the time course of emotion in the parenting context in order to identify critical targets for intervention.