Neonatal Risk, Maternal Sensitive-Responsiveness and Infants’ Joint Attention: Moderation by Stressful Contexts

Abstract

Neonatal risk factors have been associated with atypical development in various areas of social communication, including joint attention (JA), but little is known about factors in the early caregiving environment that can modify the negative implications of neonatal risk. The present study examines the links between neonatal risk and infants' JA, while considering the mediating role of maternal sensitive-responsiveness and the moderating roles of stressful contexts. One hundred and eighty-two families with infants (50% female) born in a wide range of gestational ages and birthweights participated in the study. Neonatal risk was assessed shortly after birth using three indicators: birthweight, gestational age, and degree of medical risk. At age 6 months, maternal sensitive-responsiveness to infants’ foci of attention was rated and maternal anxiety and household chaos were measured. Infants’ JA behaviors were assessed at age 12 months. A moderated-mediation model revealed that maternal anxiety symptoms and household chaos moderated the links between neonatal risk, maternal sensitive-responsiveness, and infants’ responding to JA. Specifically, neonatal risk was related to less maternal sensitive-responsiveness only when maternal anxiety symptoms were above average levels, but not when anxiety symptoms were low. Moreover, maternal sensitive-responsiveness was positively related to infants’ responding to JA behaviors when household chaos was low but not when it was high. These findings highlight the complex nature of the links between infants’ early biological risk and caregiving environments in the development of social communication skills.

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This work was supported by the Shira Hanani memorial fund.

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Egotubov, A., Atzaba-Poria, N., Meiri, G. et al. Neonatal Risk, Maternal Sensitive-Responsiveness and Infants’ Joint Attention: Moderation by Stressful Contexts. J Abnorm Child Psychol 48, 453–466 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-019-00598-3

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Keywords

  • Neonatal risk
  • preterm birth
  • joint attention
  • parenting
  • anxiety
  • household chaos