Mother–child mutually responsive orientation and real-time physiological coordination

Yannan Hu, Nancy L. McElwain, Daniel Berry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


From a biobehavioral framework, mother–child physiological and behavioral coordination are interdependent processes that contribute to children's socioemotional development. Little is known, however, about the temporal pattern of real-time physiological coordination or its associations with global levels of mother–child behavioral coordination. We addressed these gaps using data from 110 mothers and their preschool-aged children (56 girls, Mage = 53.63 months, SD = 7.74) across two play tasks (i.e., puzzle, pretend play). Using indices of maternal and child parasympathetic response (i.e., changes in respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA]) across 15-s epochs, we tested the extent to which within-dyad physiological coordination was contingent on mutually responsive orientation (MRO; a global composite of behavioral coordination and shared positive affect assessed via observer ratings across each play task). Results from a series of two-level coupled autoregressive models indicated that MRO moderated mother–lead RSA coordination, and this pattern emerged across both play tasks. Controlling for stability of within-person RSA changes, increases in maternal RSA at time t – 1 predicted increases in children's RSA at time t, but only for dyads averaging higher MRO during play. No interactions of MRO emerged for child–lead RSA coordination. Findings highlight the importance of dyadic behavioral processes for mother–child physiological coordination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22200
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful to the families who participated in this research. The authors also thank Jordan Bodway who played a key role in coordinating and supervising the laboratory visits, the undergraduate students who assisted with observational coding of dyadic behavior, and Drs. Keri Heilman, Maria Davila, Niyantri Ravindran, and Xi Chen who assisted with preparing and editing the cardiac data. This study was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (SMA‐1416791) and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (ILLU‐793‐362).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • coupled autoregressive models
  • mother–child physiological coordination
  • mutually responsive orientation
  • respiratory sinus arrhythmia


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