The purpose of this project is: 1) to identify affective processes that predict new mothers' sensitivity to infant distress and 2) to identify individual and family predictors of these affective processes. This work is relevant to the mental health of children because maternal sensitivity to infant distress has been a consistent predictor of positive child outcomes, but we know little about the processes that influence how mothers respond to their distressed infants. Identifying these processes will inform the development of individually tailored intervention efforts to foster sensitive maternal behavior and positive developmental outcomes. 100 primiparous mothers, 80 partners, and 100 infants recruited from prenatal classes will participate in this study. During the prenatal period, mothers will complete questionnaires about their personalities and their relationship with their own parents, mothers and partners will each rate the partner relationship, and mothers will be interviewed about their responses to videotapes of distressed infants. At 5 1/2 months post-partum, both parents will complete questionnaires assessing their partner relationship, the parenting alliance, and perceptions of infant temperament. Mothers and 6-month old infants will visit the research playroom for a videotaped observation of maternal sensitivity during activities designed to elicit infant distress to novelty and to limitations. Mothers will then view the videotape of the interaction and be interviewed about their thoughts, emotions, and goals during the interaction. It is predicted that mothers who are high on multiple emotional competencies will respond more sensitively to infant distress than other mothers, having emotional needs met by parents in childhood will predict mothers' emotional competencies, and this association will be mediated by current personality characteristics and moderated by infant temperament and the quality of the current partner relationship. Results will extend our knowledge of the processes that influence maternal sensitivity in emotionally arousing settings, a critical context for children's emotional development.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Study Section
Pediatrics Subcommittee (CHHD)
Program Officer
Maholmes, Valerie
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University of North Carolina Greensboro
Other Health Professions
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Qu, Jin; Leerkes, Esther M; King, Elizabeth K (2016) Preschoolers' distress and regulatory behaviors vary as a function of infant-mother attachment security. Infant Behav Dev 44:144-7
Putnam, Samuel P; Helbig, Amy L; Gartstein, Maria A et al. (2014) Development and assessment of short and very short forms of the infant behavior questionnaire-revised. J Pers Assess 96:445-58
Leerkes, Esther M; Weaver, Jennifer M; O'Brien, Marion (2012) Differentiating Maternal Sensitivity to Infant Distress and Non-Distress. Parent Sci Pract 12:175-184
Gudmundson, Jessica A; Leerkes, Esther M (2012) Links between mothers' coping styles, toddler reactivity, and sensitivity to toddler's negative emotions. Infant Behav Dev 35:158-66
Leerkes, Esther M; Wong, Maria S (2012) Infant Distress and Regulatory Behaviors Vary as a Function of Attachment Security Regardless of Emotion Context and Maternal Involvement. Infancy 17:455-478
Leerkes, Esther M (2011) Maternal sensitivity during distressing tasks: a unique predictor of attachment security. Infant Behav Dev 34:443-6
Parade, Stephanie H; Leerkes, Esther M (2011) Marital aggression predicts infant orienting toward mother at six months. Infant Behav Dev 34:235-8
Leerkes, Esther M; Parade, Stephanie H; Gudmundson, Jessica A (2011) Mothers' emotional reactions to crying pose risk for subsequent attachment insecurity. J Fam Psychol 25:635-43
Burney, Regan V; Leerkes, Esther M (2010) Links between mothers' and fathers' perceptions of infant temperament and coparenting. Infant Behav Dev 33:125-35
Leerkes, Esther M (2010) Predictors of Maternal Sensitivity to Infant Distress. Parent Sci Pract 10:219-239

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