Maternal sensitivity and infant response to frustration: The moderating role of EEG asymmetry

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Two hundred and thirty-three 5-month-old infants and their mothers participated in a study designed to examine the influence of maternal sensitivity and infant neurophysiology, as well as interactions between these, on infants' regulatory behavior and reactivity to emotional challenge. Maternal sensitivity was measured during two mother-child free-play episodes prior to the challenge task. Infant neurophysiology was derived from a measure of resting EEG asymmetry collected during a baseline episode. Infant regulatory behaviors (mother orienting and distraction) and reactivity to challenge (negative affect) were assessed during an arm restraint procedure. Maternal sensitivity predicted mother-orienting behavior for all infants, regardless of baseline EEG asymmetry. Maternal sensitivity also predicted more distraction behaviors for infants with left frontal EEG asymmetry at baseline. In contrast, maternal sensitivity predicted more negative affect for infants with right frontal EEG asymmetry at baseline. These findings lend support for the hypothesis that maternal sensitivity and infant neurophysiological functioning interact to predict regulatory behavior and reactivity and are discussed in terms of the significance for understanding infant regulatory development in the first year of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-535
Number of pages13
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2014

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 Virginia Tech and UNC-Greensboro for their assistance with data collection and coding. In particular, we would like to 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.


  • EEG asymmetry
  • Emotion regulation
  • Infancy
  • Maternal sensitivity
  • Reactivity


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