Relationships among Emotional Availability, Touching Behavior, and Parenting Stress in Mother-Infant Dyads

Courtney C Anderson, Pace University


The link between physical contact and the parent-child relationship has been well established in the literature. However, no studies to date have focused on better understanding how touching behavior within a maternal-child dyad relates to the specific construct of Emotional Availability in a non-clinical sample. Emotional Availability is a more recent measurable construct within the field of attachment theory that relates to the expectations infants develop about the availability and responsiveness of their caregivers. The construct was operationalized for research by Biringen (2008) and its validity as a construct of attachment is grounded in over 20 years of research. The purpose of this study was to examine direct and indirect relationships between frequency of touch and EA in a non-clinical sample of mother-infant dyads. Parenting stress and infant age were explored as potential moderators of any significant relationships found between touch and EA. Results demonstrated direct relationships between Total Touch and EA Nonintrusiveness, and between Maternal Initiated Touch and EA Sensitivity, Structuring and Nonintrusiveness. Significant relationships between Parenting Stress and Life and touch frequencies were not observed. Parenting stress, and its subcomponents, were found to moderate several relationships between EA and touch. In general, the relationship between touch and EA carried less significance in lower stress groups. Findings were consistent with previous studies that have found that different aspects of parenting stress relate to attachment in different ways. Life stress did not share any relationships with touch nor with EA, and only moderated one relationship between these variables. Finally, infant age was found to correlate negatively with aspects of EA and touch, and moderated relationships between these variables. The results are discussed in relation to previous research on EA, touch, and parenting stress. Overall, these findings expand upon the field's understanding of how frequency of touch relates to aspects of EA, and how parenting stress and infant age interact with these relationships. Limitations of the study are addressed, including the small homogeneous sample, and recommendations for future studies are made that would include larger more diverse samples and would examine other aspects of touch in relation to EA, including quality of touch, infant self-touching behavior, and the interactive qualities of touch by looking at behavioral contingencies within the dyad. Keywords: attachment, emotional availability, maternal touch, infant touch, parenting stress, mother-infant dyad.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Anderson, Courtney C, "Relationships among Emotional Availability, Touching Behavior, and Parenting Stress in Mother-Infant Dyads" (2015). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3664680.



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