Maternal Responses to Infant Distress: Linkages Between Specific Emotions and Neurophysiological Processes

Nastassia J. Hajal, Pamela M. Cole, Douglas M. Teti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


SYNOPSIS: Objective. The goals of the current article were to test the presence of an association between mothers’ neural activity (measured by frontal cortical alpha asymmetry) and their specific emotions (measured by observed facial expressions) in response to infant distress and the moderation of this relation by mothers’ appraisal processes (measured by sense of parenting efficacy). Design. Mothers of 5- to 8-month-olds (n = 26) watched videos of their own infants expressing distress while their brain activity was recorded via electroencephalogram and their facial expressions were videotaped for later microcoding. Mothers also completed a questionnaire measure of parenting efficacy. Results. Greater neurophysiological withdrawal in response to infant distress videos, indexed by frontal alpha asymmetry, was associated with longer sad and tense expressions in mothers with average or below average parenting efficacy, but not in those with above average efficacy. Conclusions. Previous research showing that patterns of parents’ brain activity in response to child stimuli are associated with parenting behavior often interpret results in relation to parental emotion, but rarely measure specific concurrent emotions. The current study helps fill this gap in the literature by showing that maternal neurophysiological withdrawal (together with parenting efficacy) was associated with simultaneously measured facial expressions of negative emotion in response to infant distress stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-224
Number of pages25
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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