Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Psychology

Supervisor

Dr. Greg Moran

Abstract

Mother-child emotion dialogues represent an integral medium through which children’s autobiography develops. This study sought to understand the developmental origins and processes underlying this co-construction process by examining the inter-relations between: mother-infant attachment relationships, maternal attachment representations, maternal sensitivity during interactions in infancy, maternal affective mindset during toddlerhood, and mother-child emotion dialogues.

Our findings are consistent with past research on the links between the three organized categories of mother-infant attachment relationships and later mother-child emotion dialogues. Children in disorganized attachment relationships displayed a lack of consistent and coherent strategy during emotion communication. Our results emphasize the important role of maternal state of mind with regards to attachment in shaping emotion dialogues. Autonomous mothers co-constructed emotionally integrated and coherent narratives with their children, while non-autonomous mothers created stories that were less emotionally attuned and narratively organized. The unresolved/disoriented classification was unrelated to mother-child emotion discourse. Finally, a mismatch in infant attachment and maternal attachment representation was associated with a mismatch in communication style during dyads’ shared conversations.

While the suggestion of maternal sensitivity and affective mindset as mediating the link between maternal attachment representation and affective mindset was not supported, we did find preliminary evidence of a moderating process. Autonomous mothers exhibiting unexpectedly low levels of sensitivity during infancy tended to engage in dialogues that were less emotionally integrated and coherent.

This study highlights the importance of maternal attachment representation in how emotion-laden memories are recalled, interpreted, and verbalized. Results are discussed in light of their implications for future work.


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