Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Developmental and Brain Sciences

First Advisor

Ed Tronick

Second Advisor

Nancy Snidman

Third Advisor

Richard Hunter


The capacity to self-regulate has a profound impact on one’s life, and individual differences in regulation have been associated with long-term consequences, such as development of addictive behaviors, academic success, mental and physical health. Within a few years, a newborn, which is almost completely reliant on the caregiver for regulation, develops into a toddler, that is able to face everyday challenges herself. During the first year of life, the capacity to engage in age-appropriate self-regulation becomes more robust.

The early mother-infant interaction functions in part as an external regulatory support for the infant, making is an essential learning environment. Developmental deficits in the infant’s regulatory capacity have been linked to chronic dysregulation of the dyad, maternal characteristics of the dyadic interaction, and maternal stress. However, these factors develop slowly over time. They are usually measured retrospectively without the chance of observing the underlying processes involved in a controlled laboratory setting. To close this gap in the literature the present thesis proposes three experiments; the first study investigates how twofold exposure to a dysregulating stressor may affect the infant’s ability to regulate. A second study evaluates how acute maternal stress in an experimental setting affects the dyad’s ability to regulate a subsequent stressor. Finally, a third study explores the role of early social game routines in the dyadic interaction, a characteristic of the mother-interaction that has been mostly overlooked in the literature.

Results indicate that a twofold exposure to a dysregulating social stressor evokes an anticipatory memory effect in the infant 24-hours later when returning to the context and decreases her ability to regulate as indicated by changes in physiological and behavioral measures. Findings from the second experiment show that even a brief experimental caregiver stressor can affect the dyad’s regulatory capacity during a typical play interaction. Results of the third experiment suggest that early social game routines can be linked to infant physiological and emotional regulation. Overall results indicate that a twofold exposure to a dysregulating stressor, as well as a brief maternal stressor, affect the infant’s and dyad’s ability to regulate their interaction.


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