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Affect recognition and the quality of mother-infant interaction: understanding parenting difficulties in mothers with schizophrenia

Abstract

This study investigated the quality of mother-infant interaction and maternal ability to recognise adult affect in three study groups consisting of mothers with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, mothers with depression and healthy controls. Sixty-four mothers were recruited from a Mother and Baby Unit and local children’s centres. A 5-min mother-infant interaction was coded on a number of caregiving variables. Affect recognition and discrimination abilities were tested via a series of computerised tasks. Group differences were found both in measures of affect recognition and in the mother-infant interaction. Mothers with schizophrenia showed consistent impairments across most of the parenting measures and all measures of affect recognition and discrimination. Mothers with depression fell between the mothers with schizophrenia and healthy controls on most measures. However, depressed women’s parenting was not significantly poorer than controls on any of the measures, and only showed trends for differences with mothers with schizophrenia on a few measures. Regression analyses found impairments in affect recognition and a diagnosis of schizophrenia to predict the occurrence of odd or unusual speech in the mother-infant interaction. Results add to the growing body of knowledge on the mother-infant interaction in mothers with schizophrenia and mothers with depression compared to healthy controls, suggesting a need for parenting interventions aimed at mothers with these conditions. While affect recognition impairments were not found to fully explain differences in parenting among women with schizophrenia, further research is needed to understand the psychopathology of parenting disturbances within this clinical group.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Prof Lynne Murray and Prof Pasco Fearon for their helpful input in advising on the development of the mother-infant interaction coding scheme and Andreas Giannakakis for his skilled work in the coding of the interactions. We are grateful to the University of Pennsylvania’s Brain Behavior Laboratory for permission to use their emotion recognition measures. We would also like to thank all the mothers and babies who participated in this research.

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Correspondence to Sarah J. Healy.

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Healy, S.J., Lewin, J., Butler, S. et al. Affect recognition and the quality of mother-infant interaction: understanding parenting difficulties in mothers with schizophrenia. Arch Womens Ment Health 19, 113–124 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-015-0530-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-015-0530-3

Keywords

  • Schizophrenia
  • Mother-infant interaction
  • Affect recognition
  • Postnatal depression
  • Parenting