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Dev Sci. 2014 Nov;17(6):1012-28. doi: 10.1111/desc.12194. Epub 2014 Jun 9.

Fathers' versus mothers' social referencing signals in relation to infant anxiety and avoidance: a visual cliff experiment.

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1
Research Institute of Child Development and Education, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Abstract

Infants use signals from others to guide their behavior when confronted with novel situations, a process called 'social referencing' (SR). Via SR, signs of parental anxiety can lead to infant anxiety. Little is known about differences in the effect of paternal and maternal SR signals on child anxiety. Using a visual cliff paradigm, we studied whether SR processes between fathers and their infants differed from mothers and their infants. Eighty-one infants aged 10-15 months were randomly assigned to conduct the visual cliff task with their father (n = 41) or mother (n = 40). The infant was placed on the shallow side of the cliff and the parent, standing at the deep side, was instructed to encourage the infant to cross. Results showed that although mothers showed more intense facial expressions of encouragement than fathers, no differences occurred in how fast, and with how much anxiety, infants crossed the cliff with fathers and mothers. However, path analyses showed that paternal, but not maternal, expressed anxiety was positively associated with infant expressed anxiety and avoidance. For infants who participated with their mother, infants' anxious temperament was negatively associated with infant avoidance of the cliff. Infant anxious temperament moderated the link between paternal expressed anxiety and infant avoidance: the higher the level of infant anxious temperament the stronger the positive association between paternal expressed anxiety and infant's avoidance of the cliff. Lastly, parental encouragement was unrelated to infant expressed anxiety and avoidance. Our results suggest that SR processes between fathers and their infants differ from those between mothers and their infants.

PMID:
24909521
DOI:
10.1111/desc.12194
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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