"MOODY BLUES": Affect Interpretation of Infant Facial Expressions and Negative Affect in Mothers of Preterm and Term Infants

Hedwig J.A. van Bakel, Hannah N Hoffenkamp, Anneke Tooten, Ruby A.S. Hall, Merel ter Beek, Esther E Hartman, Ad J.J.M. Vingerhoets

Abstract


Preterm birth places infants at increased risk for adverse developmental outcomes, with self- and affect regulation problems among the most important impairments. However, few studies have empirically examined maternal interpretation of infant affect in mothers of pre- and term infants. The current study examines how negative affect of mothers of preterm and term infants is associated with their interpretation of infant facial expressions.
One hundred and sixty-eight mothers with their infants (64 term and 104 preterm) participated. Seven days after birth, mothers completed the UWIST Mood Adjective Checklist (UMACL; Matthews, Jones, & Chamberlain, 1990) to assess maternal negative affect. During a home visit, six months after birth, mothers additionally completed a task developed to measure infant affect interpretation (Interpreting Facial Expressions of Emotions through Looking at Pictures task, IFEEL pictures task; Emde, Osofsky, & Butterfield, 1993).
Mothers of preterm infants reported more negative affect than mothers of term infants. However, the relationship between infant birth status (i.e., term vs. preterm) and maternal interpretation of infant facial expressions was moderated by the mother's own negative affectivity. Surprisingly, particularly mothers of term infants who also reported high levels of negative affect were found to interpret infant affect significantly more negatively.
Prematurity itself does not seem to be a dominant factor in determining maternal infant affect interpretation, though maternal psychological negative mood does. Both theoretical and practical implications of the results are discussed.

Keywords


maternal negative affect; infant; affect interpretation; preterm

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