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Parental sensitivity and family conversation: A naturalistic longitudinal study with both mothers and fathers across three time-points in early infancy.

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Foley, Sarah 
Browne, Wendy 
Hughes, Claire 


Parental verbal sensitivity is known to promote child language skills, but few studies have considered: (a) links between global (i.e., verbal, behavioral, and affective) measures of parental sensitivity and infant-initiated conversations, an important precursor to language development; (b) whether maternal and paternal sensitivity show similar links with infant-initiated conversation; or (c) the transactional role of infant conversation for later parental sensitivity. Addressing these gaps, this study of 186 British first-time parents (93 families) examines the developmental dynamics between parental sensitivity and infant communication across the first year of life. We explore; (i) the role of maternal and paternal sensitivity (assessed during structured home observations at 4 months post-partum) for parent-infant conversational interactions at 7 months (indexed by day-long naturalistic recordings), and (ii) whether these mother-infant and father-infant conversations at 7 months shape maternal and paternal sensitivity at 14 months (also assessed via structured home observations). For both male and female infants, maternal (but not paternal) sensitivity at 4 months predicted infant vocalisations and conversational initiation at 7-months. By contrast, neither index of infant talk predicted maternal or paternal sensitivity at 14 months. Together these findings refine understanding of theoretical models of social development and suggest new possibilities for future research.


Publication status: Published


conversation, fathers, infant, interaction, mothers, sensitivity, Humans, Female, Male, Infant, Longitudinal Studies, Fathers, Adult, Communication, Mothers, Parent-Child Relations, Mother-Child Relations, Language Development, Child Development

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Infant Ment Health J

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Economic and Social Research Council (ES/L016648/1, ES/T008989/1)
Wellcome Trust (108085/Z/15/Z)