The Unique and Combined Impact of Mother and Child Temperamental Negative Reactivity on Mother-child Interactions: the Protective Role of Maternal Coping Strategies




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The mother-child relationship can be influenced by individual characteristics of the mother and child. Negative reactivity, a dimension of temperament, has been shown to be highly heritable, yet research has only focused on the consequences of child negative reactivity. It is important to understand if levels of negative reactivity are associated with displays of negative behavior in mothers and their children, given these behaviors can be barriers to conflict resolution in familial relationships. Additionally, it is important to understand if maternal positive coping skills may act as a buffer between negative reactivity and negative behavior in mother-child interactions, as these skills could offer protective benefits to the relationship. In this dissertation, I had three principal aims. The first aim was to investigate if both maternal and child negative reactivity would individually and jointly contribute to observed negativity in a discussion of conflict and their associations with the type of resolution reached. The second aim was to investigate if positive maternal coping behaviors would act as a buffer between negative reactivity and observed negativity during a discussion of conflict. And lastly, the third aim was to identify distinct mother-child dyads based on the negative affectivity domain of temperament, and whether those dyad groupings had associations with observed negativity in the discussion of conflict as well as the resolution outcomes. Participants included 189 mother-child dyads, where the study child participant ranged in age between five and seven years old. Variable-centered analyses were used to test the first two aims of the study and did not reveal significant associations between mother or child negative reactivity and the observed negativity variables, outside of the initial bivariate correlations. A person-centered approach was the focus of the third aim and results revealed that there were two distinct mother-child negative reactivity profiles among the study participants: a group where mothers reported moderate levels of negative reactivity in themselves and slightly lower levels in their children (Moderate Mother/ Slightly Low Child Negative Reactivity) and a group where mothers reported higher levels of negative reactivity in themselves and slightly higher levels of negative reactivity in their children (High Mother/Slightly High Child Negative Reactivity). There were no significant associations between the dyadic reactivity groups and observed negativity in the conflict discussion. However, a main effect emerged for the racial or ethnic group of children in these groups and the resolution outcomes, where children that were identified as African American were more likely to have the resolution outcome be a “win/loss” in favor of the mother when compared to children identified as European American. Results are discussed in terms of temperament heritability and the usefulness of person-centered analyses in conjunction with traditional variable-centered approaches.



Psychology, Developmental