Parental stress and emotion attributions as correlates of maternal positive affect and sensitivity during interaction with young children

Jacqueline Sue DeGroat, Pace University


Current views of child development assign primary importance to the child's growth within a mutual, transactional attachment relationship. Research into child and family functioning calls for continued investigation into parental, child and dyadic factors which influence family relationships and developmental outcomes. This study examined relationships among maternal stress, style of emotion attribution, and qualities of affective behavior demonstrated in mother-child interaction. Twenty mothers and their preschool-aged children (2–3 years), recruited from children's programs in a New York City church, participated in the study. Mothers and children were videotaped in a semi-structured interaction involving structured play, free play and feeding segments. Videotapes were scored on maternal variables in two areas, positive affect and sensitivity. Mothers completed a parenting stress questionnaire (the PSI-SF) and the IFEEL Pictures, a measure of emotion attribution using photographs of infants. It was expected that increased levels of stress would be associated with decreased levels of positive affect and sensitivity, and that atypical patterns of emotion attribution would be associated with decreased maternal sensitivity. Relationships between other patterns in emotion attribution and maternal affective behavior were also explored. Confirming hypotheses, mothers who reported more stress in several areas also demonstrated less positive affect and sensitivity in interaction. Atypical emotion attribution style was not associated with maternal behavior, but increased attributions of negative emotions (e.g. fear, anger, sadness) were related to decreased positive affect and sensitivity. A positive relationship was found between total stress and negative attributions. Additionally, parental stress and negative attributions interacted to predict maternal affective behavior. Implications for assessment and intervention were discussed, in terms of the need to refine multifactorial models of parent and family functioning, and the potential efficacy of intervention utilizing procedures such as video feedback to develop parental awareness and insight into parent-child interactions.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Cognitive therapy|Social psychology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

DeGroat, Jacqueline Sue, "Parental stress and emotion attributions as correlates of maternal positive affect and sensitivity during interaction with young children" (2003). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3090207.



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