Empirical Research

Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 96-108

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Dyadic Variability in Mother-Adolescent Interactions: Developmental Trajectories and Associations with Psychosocial Functioning

  • Daniёlle Van der GiessenAffiliated withResearch Centre Adolescent Development, Utrecht University Email author 
  • , Susan J. T. BranjeAffiliated withResearch Centre Adolescent Development, Utrecht University
  • , Tom FrijnsAffiliated withTrimbos Institute
  • , Wim H. J. MeeusAffiliated withResearch Centre Adolescent Development, Utrecht University


Dyadic variability is considered to be a key mechanism in the development of mother-adolescent relationships, and low levels of dyadic flexibility are thought to be associated with behavior and relationship problems. The present observational study examined heterogeneity in the development of dyadic variability in mother-adolescent interactions and associations with psychosocial functioning. Dyadic variability refers to the range of emotional states during interactions of mother-adolescent dyads. During five annual home visits, 92 mother-adolescent dyads (M age T1 = 13; 65.2 % boys) were videotaped while discussing a conflict, and they completed several questionnaires on adolescents’ aggressive behavior and adolescents’ and mothers’ perceived relationship quality. Two types of dyads were distinguished: low variability dyads (52 %) and high decreasing variability dyads (48 %). Over time, high decreasing variability dyads were characterized by a broader emotional repertoire than low variability dyads. Moreover, these two dyad types had distinct developmental patterns of psychosocial adjustment. Over time, high decreasing variability dyads showed lower levels of adolescents’ aggressive behavior, and higher levels of perceived relationship quality than low variability dyads. These findings suggest that over time more dyadic variability is associated with less adjustment problems and a more constructive development of the mother-adolescent relationship. Adaptive interactions seem to be characterized by a wider range of emotional states and mothers should guide adolescents during interactions to express both positive and negative affect. Observing the dyadic variability during mother-adolescent interactions can help clinicians to distinguish adaptive from maladaptive mother-adolescent dyads.


Mother-adolescent interactions Dyadic variability State space grids Psychosocial functioning