Maternal behavior predicts infant neurophysiological and behavioral attention processes in the first year

Margaret M. Swingler, Nicole B. Perry, Susan D. Calkins, Martha Ann Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


We apply a biopsychosocial conceptualization to attention development in the 1st year and examine the role of neurophysiological and social processes on the development of early attention processes. We tested whether maternal behavior measured during 2 mother-child interaction tasks when infants (N = 388) were 5 months predicted infant medial frontal (F3/F4) EEG power and observed attention behavior during an attention task at 10 months. After controlling for infant attention behavior and EEG power in the same task measured at an earlier 5-month time point, results indicated a significant direct and positive association from 5-month maternal positive affect to infant attention behavior at 10 months. However, maternal positive affect was not related to medial frontal EEG power. In contrast, 5-month maternal intrusive behavior was associated with infants' task-related EEG power change at the left frontal location, F3, at 10 months of age. The test of indirect effects from 5-month maternal intrusiveness to 10-month infant attention behavior via infants' EEG power change at F3 was significant. These findings suggest that the development of neural networks serving attention processes may be 1 mechanism through which early maternal behavior is related to infant attention development in the 1st year and that intrusive maternal behavior may have a particularly disruptive effect on this process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-27
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Grants HD049878 and HD043057 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) awarded to the last author. The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NICHD or the National Institutes of Health. We are grateful to the families for their participation in our research and to our research teams at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Virginia Tech for their assistance with data collection and coding. In particular, we acknowledge Cynthia L. Smith for advising on maternal interaction coding; Christy Wolfe, Annie Cardell, and Anjoli Diaz for training and supervising coding; and Katherine Morasch, Kimberly Cuevas, Vinaya Raj, and Tara Patterson for their help with the EEG data.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Psychological Association.


  • Attention
  • EEG power
  • Infancy
  • Maternal behavior
  • Neural networks


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