Original Article

Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 293-307

First online:

Distressed Mothers and Their Infants Use a Less Efficient Timing Mechanism in Creating Expectancies of Each Other’s Looking Patterns

  • Beatrice BeebeAffiliated withNYS Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University Email author 
  • , Anthony BadalamentiAffiliated withScientific Support
  • , Joseph JaffeAffiliated withNYS Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University
  • , Stanley FeldsteinAffiliated withUniversity of Maryland Baltimore County
  • , Lisa MarquetteAffiliated withFranklin Township Schools
  • , Elizabeth HelbraunAffiliated withThe Little Room, Brooklyn Heights Montessori
  • , Donna Demetri-FriedmanAffiliated withNYS Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University
  • , Caroline FlasterAffiliated withNYS Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University
  • , Patricia GoodmanAffiliated withPrivate Practice
    • , Tammy KaminerAffiliated withPrivate Practice
    • , Limor Kaufman-BalamuthAffiliated withPost Doctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, New York University
    • , Jill PuttermanAffiliated withPrivate Practice
    • , Shanee StepakoffAffiliated withPrivate Practice
    • , Lauren EllmanAffiliated withNYS Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University

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The prediction of events and the creation of expectancies about their time course is a crucial aspect of an infant’s mental life, but temporal mechanisms underlying these predictions are obscure. Scalar timing, in which the ratio of mean durations to their standard deviations is held constant, enables a person to use an estimate of the mean for its standard deviation. It is one efficient mechanism that may facilitate predictability and the creation of expectancies in mother–infant interaction. We illustrate this mechanism with the dyadic gaze rhythm of mother and infant looking at and looking away from each other’s faces. Two groups of Hi- and Lo-Distress mothers were created using self-reported depression, anxiety, self-criticism and childhood experiences. Lo-Distress infants (controls) used scalar timing 100% of the time, about double that of Hi-Distress infants. Lo-Distress mothers used scalar timing about nine times as much as Hi-Distress mothers. The diminished use of scalar timing patterns in Hi-Distress mothers and infants may make the anticipation of each other’s gaze patterns more difficult for both partners.


Maternal depression Mother-infant looking patterns Communication timing mechanisms