MATERNAL EMPATHY IN RELATION TO INFANT AFFECTIVE ENGAGEMENT AT FOUR MONTHS
ALSON, DIANE FIRMAN
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Fifteen middle class mothers and their four-month-old first born female infants were videotaped in face-to-face play in a descriptive study of the relation of a number of measures of maternal empathy to infant affective engagement. Levels of infant affective engagement are based on specific constellations of infant orientation, visual attention to mother, and facial expression, organized in an ordinal scale. Due to the paucity of instruments available to assess "maternal empathy", this study explored a spectrum of self-report (Cohler, Weiss and Grunebaum's Maternal Attitude Scale and Hogan's Empathy Scale) and observational measures to determine which of these maternal measures were specifically associated with the infant's social capacity as measured by the infant engagement scale. Observational measures were based on infant engagement and maternal engagement (an ordinal scale similar to the infant's) derived from microanalysis of split-screen videotape, and vocal interaction derived from microanalysis of audiotape.;The significant findings in the predicted direction were that maternal empathy, conceptualized as maternal behavior positively associated with infant engagement, is tapped by three variables: clinical assessment of maternal sensitivity, matching of the durations of vocal pauses, and higher mother mean engagement level. The variable with the most consistent utility in yielding significant positive associations with infant engagement was clinical assessment of maternal sensitivity. The self-report take-home scales showed no significant correlations with infant engagement (although the "reciprocity" factor of the Maternal Attitude Scale showed a positive pattern of correlations). Thus information obtained through clinical and behavioral assessment of the interaction yields more than take-home tests. Significant findings in the opposite direction predicted showed that two measures of maternal contingency (vocal contingency and tracking the direction of the infant's previous engagement change) are negatively associated with infant engagement, suggesting that these measures may tap an alternative kind of material sensitivity associated with lowered infant engagement.;In conclusion, two conceptualizations of maternal empathy emerge from the data: maternal variables which were positively associated with infant engagement and other maternal variables (largely contingency) negatively associated with infant engagement.
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