Maternal anxiety, mother-infant interactions, and infants' response to challenge

Marsha Kaitz*, Hilla Rubin Maytal, Noa Devor, Liat Bergman, David Mankuta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Children of anxious mothers are at risk for social-emotional difficulties and disturbed, early interactions with their mother may account for some of the risk. This study evaluated the association between maternal anxiety, features of mother-infant interactions, and infants' emotion regulation during stressful situations (still-face, play with a stranger). Thirty-four anxiety-disordered mothers of 6-month-old infants and 59 typical dyads comprised the sample. Dyads were filmed during free play, teaching, care giving, and face-to-face play; and monadic (e.g., maternal sensitivity, infant affect) and dyadic measures (e.g., synchrony) were derived by global or time-event coding of the films. Results indicate that, compared to controls, more anxious mothers showed exaggerated behavior with their infant during free play and teaching, and infants of anxious mothers were less likely to show negative affect during the still-face and stranger challenges. We conclude that anxious maternal behavior reflects the hyperarousal that is characteristic of most anxiety disorders; and infants of anxious mothers and controls show differences in the manner in which they cope with social challenges.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)136-148
Number of pages13
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation ( 900/02-34 ) to the first author. We thank the many students who recruited, interviewed the mothers, and painstakingly coded the films. We also thank the nurses in the well-baby clinics who helped us recruit mothers and Dr. Ronit Nirel, Department of Statistics, Hebrew University, who provided statistical advice. We are indebted to the mothers and infants who participated in the study.


  • Anxiety
  • Emotion regulation
  • Maternal behavior
  • Mother-infant interactions


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