A systematic investigation of affect attunement and its link to a global measure of maternal sensitivity



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Through the process of affect attunement, mothers will engage in behaviors that appear to be matching their infant’s inner state. A mother internalizes her child’s inner feelings and relays these feelings back to him or her through verbal and nonverbal signals, often unconsciously, and in a different modality than that expressed by the child. To date, very few systematic investigations have been reported. The present study sought to systematically examine affect attunement behavior and examine its relationship with a global measure of maternal sensitivity. The Maternal Behavior Q-Sort was utilized to code maternal sensitivity which uses using a set of 90 cards that describe maternal behaviors at home. The sort is compared to the sort of a “prototypical sensitive mother” and yields a composite score for each mother. A subsample of mother-child dyads (N = 59) were observed for this study. The dyads all participated in the standard Strange Situation Procedure (SSP) as part of a larger, longitudinal social development project. All mothers were previously observed to yield a MBQS score and approximately a year later, affect attunements of the same mothers were coded during episodes 2, 5, and 8 in the SSP. Preliminary findings revealed a strong correlation between total frequency of attunement and MBQS score, r = .407, p < .01. When examining each SSP episode separately, MBQS score was also significantly correlated with the frequency of Episode 2 (r = .337, p < .01), Episode 5, (r = .282, p < .05), and Episode 8 (r = .300, P < .05). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to empirically report the association between maternal affect attunement and sensitivity.



Maternal sensitivity, Affect attunement, Mother-child