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Early Environmental Correlates of Maternal Emotion Talk


Garrett-Peters, Patricia; Mills-Koonce, W. Roger; Adkins, Daniel E.; Vernon-Feagans, Lynne; & Cox, Martha (2008). Early Environmental Correlates of Maternal Emotion Talk. Parenting: Science and Practice, 8(2), 117-152. PMCID: PMC2783602


Objective: The primary goal of this study was to examine contextual, child, and maternal factors that are associated with mothers' early emotion talk in an ethnically diverse, low-income sample.
Design: Emotion talk (positive and negative labels) was coded for 1111 mothers while engaged with their 7-month-olds in viewing an emotion-faces picture book. Infant attention during the interaction was also coded. Mothers' parenting style (positive engagement and negative intrusiveness) was coded during a dyadic free-play interaction. Demographic information was obtained, as well as maternal ratings of child temperament and mother's knowledge of infant development.
Results: Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that social context and maternal qualities are significant predictors of mothers' early positive and negative emotion talk. In particular, mothers who were African American, had higher income, and who showed more positive engagement when interacting with their infants demonstrated increased rates of positive and negative emotion talk with their infants. For negative emotion talk, social context variables moderated other predictors. Specifically, infant attention was positively associated with negative emotion talk only for African American mothers, and knowledge of infant development was positively associated with negative emotion talk only for non-African American mothers. The positive association between maternal positive engagement and negative emotion talk was greater for lower-income families than for higher-income families.
Conclusions: Mothers' emotion language with infants is not sensitive to child factors but is associated with social contextual factors and characteristics of the mothers themselves.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Parenting: Science and Practice


Garrett-Peters, Patricia
Mills-Koonce, W. Roger
Adkins, Daniel E.
Vernon-Feagans, Lynne
Cox, Martha