When you go low, I go high: Negative coordination of physiological synchrony among parents and children

Kristine L. Creavy, Lisa M. Gatzke-Kopp, Xutong Zhang, Diana Fishbein, Laurel J. Kiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The parent–child relationship is an important context for children's emotional development. The current study assessed 43 parent–child dyads while watching a positive film clip and a negative film clip, in order to examine whether partner's physiological reactivity demonstrated dyadic synchrony, and whether this was associated with children's prosocial empathy. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia was measured in both caretakers and children (ages 9–14) and a continuous time series was estimated in order to maximize temporal resolution of physiological dynamics. Dyads varied in both the magnitude and direction of synchrony, with correlation coefficients ranging from moderately negative; r = −.44 (increases in one partner correspond to decreases in the other), to moderately positive; r =.55 (increases in one partner correspond to increases in the other). For both conditions, negative synchrony was correlated with higher child-reported empathy. For the negative mood condition, this effect was moderated by caretaker's emotional acceptance such that positive synchrony was associated with lower levels of empathy among dyads in which caretaker emotional acceptance was lower. These results suggest that positive physiological synchrony during a negative mood condition may not be adaptive for children when their caretaker lacks the skills to appropriately socialize their child's emotional development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-323
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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